Wednesday, 2 April 2014

'Net Fiscal Balance Report nothing but guesstimates' - Flanagan

Commenting on a Net Fiscal Balance Report from the Department of Finance (DFP), Deputy Chair of the Enterprise Committee (ETI), Phil Flanagan MLA said:

"It is clear that this Report contains absolutely no statement of fact but is based purely on guesstimates and speculation.

"Last week at a NICVA sponsored event on the need for accurate economic data in order to plan fiscal policies my party colleague Daithí McKay said; 'sound economic decision-making is dependent on having accurate data. Accurate and comprehensive economic data is central to developing and implementing policies for economic growth and job creation'.

"It is obvious that this Report does not meet this criteria. The fact is that there is no accurate statement/data on - among other things - income tax revenue. Even the British Treasury and its Office of Statistics make it clear that these figures are neither accurate nor official.

"Rather than carry out so-called research for the purpose of justifying its subservient bidding to Whitehall fiscal policies, DUP Ministers would serve the people here better by producing accurate and comprehensive data to enable us to formulate sound and sustainable economic policy. Estimating revenue based on poorly researched surveys is no substitute for accurate data. 

"The ETI Committee has agreed to carry out a detailed inquiry into the issue of inaccurate, missing and untimely economic data available in the north of Ireland.

"This report is an unnecessary and wasteful distraction from the debate on transfer of full fiscal responsibilities that needs to take place.

"The report was withheld while Simon Hamilton attempted to reconcile his dodgy figures with the equally dodgy figures produced by British Revenue and Customs. The £1bn difference between the British and local figures, is an illustration of just how inaccurate both sets of figures are. The report is poorly calculated, poorly presented and two years out of date

"The fact is that data relating to the North's public finances is not available and that is the deficit that Simon Hamilton needs to address."

The report can be accessed by clicking the following link:

Monday, 31 March 2014

Finance Minister must push for Airport Passenger Duty abolition - Flanagan

Sinn Féin Tourism Spokesperson Phil Flanagan has called has called on Finance Minister Simon Hamilton to urgently press for abolition of Air Passenger Duty (APD) with the scrapping of the tax by Dublin from tomorrow April 1st.

Mr Flanagan, who is the Deputy Chair of the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade & Investment Committee, said:

"We now face a situation whereby airline passengers departing from most of the island's airports will pay no travel tax at all, but in the case of the North's three airports, a punitive rate of taxation still exists.

"This particularly impacts on business visitors and tourists flying regularly to and from Britain where a rate of £12 per flight applies, which often is higher than the cost of the flight itself.

"Urgent action is required to address this imbalance and to stimulate the local tourism sector. Abolishing APD would give an economic stimulus to the tourism sector and lead to increased employment.

"The charging of air passenger duty is only one of a number of barriers to growing our tourism sector; customers here also face a much higher rate of VAT on accommodation and hospitality compared with the rest of Ireland.

"DUP politicians need to accept that economic and fiscal policies designed in the interests of the south east of England are not serving our people or our economy well.

"They should stop prevaricating when it comes to transfer of economic levers that would clearly be of benefit to our economy.

"They should join with the rest of us who are working to kick start economic recovery by seeking to secure the maximum fiscal responsibilities being transferred to locally elected representatives."

"Deliver North/South Interconnector as Part of A5/N2 Project" - Flanagan

Sinn Féin Energy Spokesperson Phil Flanagan has called for the North/South Interconnector Project to be delivered as part of the A5/N2 Project.

The Sinn Féin Deputy Chair of the Enterprise, Trade & Investment committee made his call on receiving a response to a question he put to DRD Minister Danny Kennedy who stated that 'There is no provision made within the proposed A5WTC road scheme to install underground communication ducts.'

Mr Flanagan said:

"Everyone accepts the need for greater electricity interconnection across the island; however there are fundamental differences of opinion on how that infrastructure should be put in place.

"Sinn Féin, at successive Ard Fheiseanna, has affirmed our strong opposition to overhead pylons calling for undergrounding of the north/south interconnector and Grid West and Grid Link.

"It makes sense for these interconnectors to be placed underground.

"It makes even more sense where a strategic roads project such as the A5/N2 is being developed, along the same general route, that underground ducts be incorporated to facilitate communications and energy infrastructure.

"All major roads project should now, as standard practice, include ducts to allow the easy installation and maintenance of communication and electricity cables as well as gas transmission.

"Not only would such a move allow the speedy installation of the much needed interconnector, it would be done at a fraction of the cost and without the need for a lengthy planning application process. The environmental impact of overhead pylons would be reduced with the financial savings funding this vital road project instead of having to vest separate land banks for each project.

"I am disappointed that to date provision has not been made within the A5/N2 project to facilitate this work, but haven spoken to a number of contractors who will carry out this scheme, I can categorically state that there is no technical reason for the north/south interconnector not being built as part of the A5/N2 project.

"I am now seeking a meeting with Eirgrid and senior staff in Roads Service to impress upon them the opportunity that exists here for amalgamating these two vital infrastructure schemes. I am hopeful that common sense will prevail and that the north/south interconnector and the A5/N2 project will be delivered as part of a single scheme."

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Flanagan calls for action by Enterprise Minister on living wage

Phil Flanagan MLA, Sinn Féin Vice-Chair of the Assembly Enterprise Committee (DETI) has called on Minister Arlene Foster to bring forward a detailed action plan for creating jobs paying a living wage.

Phil Flanagan was speaking on the findings of a report commissioned by Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Mr Flanagan said:

"Sinn Féin brought forward a motion to the Assembly at the end of last year expressing our serious concerns at the numbers of employees working for less than a living wage with many also on zero hours contracts.

"At that time a KPMG Report indicated 26% of workers were being paid less than a living wage with young people, women and part-time workers disproportionately affected.

"Now we have a further report, prepared by the New Policy Institute (NPI) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), indicating continued falling incomes for families across the social spectrum here.

"The Rowntree Report shows that incomes for the poorest 20% of residents here is £39 a week- over £2,000 a year - lower than in Britain.

"I am reiterating Sinn Féin's call on Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster as a matter of urgency, to bring forward a detailed action plan for creating jobs paying a living wage.

"In the interim the Executive should collectively encourage employers to ensure socially and morally acceptable terms of employment for all workers and to provide continuous professional development for staff."

Flanagan welcomes EU move towards ending roaming charges

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has welcomed a move by the European Union, which will lead to a on ban roaming charges for mobile phones.

The European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) have approved legislation to introduce a single European Telecoms Market, which would ban roaming charges across the European Union. Members of the Committee voted in favour of the legislation 30 votes to 12, with 14 abstained.

Mr Flanagan, who is the Deputy Chair of the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade & Investment Committee, said:

"The legislation will now be voted on in the European Parliament by all MEPs on 3rd April.

"Meanwhile the European Commission (EC) says it expects a final agreement of the legislation by December 2014, with roaming charges banned from December 2015.

"This is very good news for consumers, not only across Ireland, but right across Europe.

"For many years mobile phone operators have been urged to voluntarily reduce roaming charges but failed to do so, thereby continuing to unfairly exploit their own customers.

"As a result, the European Commission had no option but to legislate to eliminate this exploitation.

"The legislation must incorporate safeguards to ensure that operators can not introduce alternative charges to compensate for the profiteering derived from avoidable roaming charges."

Friday, 14 March 2014

Hamilton acting as cheerleader for Tory diktats - Phil Flanagan

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan said the DUP has again thrown the towel in on cuts to public services and jobs, which Westminster is trying to impose on the people of the North.

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA was responding to comments made by the North's Finance Minister at an event run by the Chartered Accountants Ulster Society.

"The Finance Minister Simon Hamilton predicts further cuts in public spending and by all accounts has accepted them before they are even announced by Westminster," said Phil Flanagan.

"It seems the Finance Minister has already thrown the towel in rather than stand up to Tory demands for cuts to public services and jobs.

"He is effectively acting as a cheerleader for Tory policies designed to preserve the privilege of the few at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable.

"This subservient roll-over attitude of the DUP when it comes to diktats from Westminster is pathetic and is a failure to represent people in the North.

"Simon Hamilton should instead be arguing for the transfer of more fiscal powers to the Assembly to shape economic policies suitable to the North rather than for London."

PwC Report paints bleak outlook for poorest households - Flanagan

Sinn Féin Vice-Chair of the Enterprise committee, Phil Flanagan MLA has reiterated his call for the Executive to re-examine its economic relationship with the British Exchequer following PwC's latest Economic Outlook Report. The Report shows that the lowest earning 10% of the population in Britain and the North as being £20 per week or about £1,000 per year worse off than their more affluent neighbours, but this does not reflect the true picture of the lower disposable incomes of households here.

Mr Flanagan said:

"This is just the latest Report to paint a bleak outlook for the poorest in society on the back of Tory led Austerity policies. While the PwC figures produced show an average across Britain and the North depicting poorer households as being £20 per week or about £1,000 per year worse off than their more affluent neighbours, this does not reflect the true picture of much lower household disposable incomes here.

"Figures which I received at the beginning of the year in response to a question to the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton on disposable income per region shows that in 2010 - the most recent figures available - the average disposable income per household in the North is £2,240 per annum less than the British average

"In fact it is £7,140 per year worse off than households in London which is where the British Chancellor's economic policies are designed to have the most beneficial impact.

"The British economy has greatest gaps between the haves and have nots than any other European economy, with households in the North of Ireland suffering the worst effects of its fiscal policies.

"The imbalances within the British economy are as a direct result of British economic and monetary policy which takes no account of unique social and economic conditions outside of London and particularly in the North of Ireland.

"This together with the stated intention of the British government, to continue with its welfare cuts agenda following the next election, ensures that those on low incomes or benefit dependent will be trapped in a never-ending poverty cycle.

"As Sinn Féin has long advocated, it is long past time that we demand the necessary tools to build a just, fair and equitable economy in the North. How many Reports does any Party that claims to have the economic future of the people who elect them at heart, have to hear before they accept that the fiscal link between the North and Britain requires an urgent reassessment.

"There is no place in modern society for such an undemocratic and top-down structure as Westminster - London Centred Tory monetary Policy which has no return for the people of the north.

"We cannot continue to depend on a Government which has no elected mandate - a Tory Party which was in fact rejected at the ballot box here - to continue to dictate our economic future."

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Assembly to Debate ETI Committee Inquiry into Electricity Prices

The Assembly will tomorrow (Monday) debate the most recent phase of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade & Investment's continuing inquiry into electricity policy.

This debate will focus on electricity pricing.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan, who is the Deputy Chair of the Committee, said:

"The Committee has spent considerable time engaging with and hearing from individuals and groups with an interest in electricity policy including the Department for Enterprise, Trade & Investment, the Utility Regulator and a range of employers and their representative organisations.

"We have considered a range of issues with regards to electricity pricing, including the all-island single electricity market and the way generators are rewarded, the absence of transparency in network charges applied by NIE, customer switching and the level of Ministerial oversight at an all-island basis.

"This inquiry commenced as a result of the concerns of large energy users in the north, who face the second highest electricity prices in the whole of Europe as well as the recent price hike by Power NI and other domestic electricity providers.

"It is clear that the above average cost for businesses is not a sustainable arrangement and that much more needs to be done to reduce the cost of doing business to allow our businesses to compete with others across Europe and around the world.

"I am hopeful that the recommendations contained within the report will be accepted and implemented and that they will have a significant impact on the price domestic and commercial customers pay for electricity."

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Assembly Hears Call for Expanded Services in Enniskillen Hospital

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has brought a debate to the Assembly Chamber to discuss increasing the range of services on offer at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen. 

The debate, featuring local MLAs and the Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA, touched upon the opportunities presented by greater collaboration with health service providers in the south. 

Speaking after the debate, Mr Flanagan said: 

“Far too often, we see services being centralised to Dublin, Derry or Belfast with no consideration given to those who live in rural areas such as Fermanagh. Many patients are forced to travel to large urban hospitals to meet a consultant for an outpatient appointment, where it would be much easier on patients, particularly those in pain or discomfort, if the consultant would hold such clinics in the Enniskillen hospital. 

“The range of specialisms on offer in the hospital also needs to be looked at. One of the primary reasons for citing the new hospital in Enniskillen was to maximise the potential for cross-border collaboration and to attract patients from counties such as Leitrim, Sligo, Monaghan & Cavan, but unfortunately, due to poor planning and a reluctance to co-operate, patients from those counties have to travel to Dublin or Galway to access services. 

“If the combined populations of Fermanagh and its surrounding counties were to be assigned to the Enniskillen hospital, then services such as Ear, Nose & Throat and Orthopaedic surgeries could be delivered locally as we would have a sufficient population mass, instead of patients having to travel to Derry or Dublin to access such routine and planned procedures. 

“There is a significant scope for extending the current range of services on offer; it is high time that those involved in running our health services grasped those opportunities and engaged in meaningful dialogue with their colleagues across the border to deliver more services locally.”

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Flanagan Welcomes Oxfam Report on Austerity

Sinn Féin Deputy Chair of Enterprise Committee, Phil Flanagan MLA has welcomed the report published by Oxfam on the devastating effect Austerity policies are having on the most vulnerable sections of society.

Mr Flanagan said:

“I welcome this in depth report produced by Oxfam which reflects many of the issues highlighted on a regular basis by Sinn Féin spokespersons. It would seem that the British and Irish governments are isolated in the belief that austerity measures, mainly directed towards the unemployed and working poor, can lift the economy and society out of the mess created by wealthy bankers, speculators and developers.

“It is an undeniable fact that every cut to benefits or wage levels has a multiplying effect on the loss to the economy as those in receipt of benefits and low wages spend 100% of disposal income locally. Therefore cuts to benefits and infrastructural investment are also a threat to existing jobs and expansion potential.

“But while we can complain and Oxfam and other reputable organisations can produce reports calling on the British government to treat this place as a special case, we will continue to suffer economically while tied to British fiscal policy.

“The only way that we will ever be treated as a special case is when we take responsibility for our own economic destiny by demanding transfer of maximum tax and revenue raising powers from Whitehall to the Assembly Executive.

“We need to reassess the fiscal link between the north and Britain.  It is time that the Assembly and Executive had access to the full suite of fiscal powers in order to build a just, fair, equitable and successful economy in the north and to build a better Ireland.

"The British economy is the most unequal in Europe with households in the north having an average £100 a week less disposable income that those in Britain. British fiscal policies will always be tailored to bolster the London Financial markets and any peripheral benefits to the unemployed or working poor are more by accident than design. And experience has exposed the fallacy that the North of Ireland benefits from economic union with Britain.

“There are alternatives to austerity. But the only way to secure a new economic and social model that invests in people and pursues fair taxation is to secure the necessary powers to do so.
“We need a proper discussion on the democratic reform of the northern economy and the economy of this island. We cannot continue to allow a Government and a Tory party which was rejected at the ballot box here continue to dictate our economic future.”

Monday, 20 January 2014

Sinn Féin Support Farmers in SDA - Flanagan

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has said that he fully supports the campaign launched by a group of farmers representing those in Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDA) in Derrygonnelly Community Centre last Thursday night.

Mr. Flanagan, who attended the meeting with well over 400 people, said:

"I was delighted to attend this meeting, to hear first-hand the concerns of farmers in West Fermanagh about the potential outworking's of the proposals suggested by the Ulster Farmers Union, particularly the suggestions that the North should be divided into sub-regions for the purposed of CAP funding and that the north will not move to a flat rate of payment by 2019, as was previously proposed.

"Sinn Féin, which was well represented at the meeting, fully supports SDA farmers and aims to ensure a viable, fair and sustainable funding stream for SDA farmers. This is despite the best efforts of some farmers groups and indeed political parties to protect large farmers in good land areas at the expense of small, SDA based farmers.

"It is clear that there is a lack of representation amongst SDA based farmers in some farmers groups.

"In order to address this current problem, I have requested an urgent meeting with the Agricultural Minister Michelle O'Neill to ensure that she is aware of the concerns of farmers in disadvantaged areas like West Fermanagh and that any decisions she takes on the future of CAP payments meet the needs of farmers in the most difficult terrain, where it is most difficult to earn a living."

Opportunities from Knock Airport Must be Grasped - Flanagan

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has stated that much more needs to be done to maximise the benefits of the opportunities presented by Ireland West Airport (Knock) to the tourism sector in Co Fermanagh.

Mr Flanagan, who is the Deputy Chair of the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade & Investment Committee, was speaking after questioning the Tourism Minister Arlene Foster on the matter.

Last year the annual number of passengers using Knock reached 665,000 - the second highest traffic figures at the airport since it opened in 1986.

The airport now serves over 25 international destinations and is served by four of Europe's biggest airlines - Aer Lingus, Flybe, Germanwings and Ryanair.

New destinations for 2014 include a twice weekly service from Eindhoven in Holland, which commences at the beginning of April.

In addition, Ryanair will commence new direct services, three times weekly, to Glasgow, starting in June, and Kaunas (Lithuania) once weekly from April.

Mr Flanagan said:

"For many people and indeed many visitor attractions in Fermanagh, Knock Airport is actually the closest and easiest to access airport.

"For too long, the opportunities presented by Ireland West Airport in Knock to the tourism sector in Co Fermanagh have been overlooked as a result of the impact of partition and the existence of the border.

"Presently, foreign visitors coming into Ireland through southern points of entry will consult and possibly be totally unaware of the existence of a separate site for the north.

"For instance a visitor arriving via Knock Airport, with some 665,000 visitors last year, will receive information on attractions and accommodation in counties such as Mayo, Sligo or Leitrim, but remain totally uninformed of the wealth of attractions north of the border in Fermanagh.

"It is a crying shame that the 665,000 people that arrived were not informed about sights and attractions of all of the surrounding counties.

"There needs to be a fresh look at how people wanting to visit Fermanagh actually get here.

"There is a fantastic facility at Knock Airport, Fermanagh's closest airport, and it has almost 300,000 empty passenger seats each year that need to be promoted and sold.

"However, the established tourism bodies continue to promote Belfast & Derry as the only airports capable of serving the local tourism sector.

"We need to do away with the failed partitionist approach to tourism promotion and development and embrace a cross-border solution with a coherent marketing plan, which would deliver a significant opportunity for Fermanagh's tourism sector."

Notes to Editors:

AQW 29085/11-1​5

Phil Flanagan MLA (Fermanagh & South Tyrone): To ask the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment how her Department aims to maximise the opportunities presented by the potential arrival of visitors to Fermanagh through Knock Airport.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment Arlene Foster MLA: Ireland West Airport Knock (IWAK) is situated within another jurisdiction and services County Mayo and neighbouring counties in the Republic of Ireland. However, it can be used as a gateway to County Fermanagh, which can also be conveniently accessed via City of Derry Airport, Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport.

I have asked both Tourism Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to look at the opportunities presented by the potential visitors to Northern Ireland through Knock airport.
Promotional work has already been undertaken in Germany with Fermanagh-based cruise operators, highlighting access from Germany via Knock Airport and Tourism Ireland have offered to undertake co-operative marketing with Ryanair in 2014 featuring Fermanagh and ease of access through Knock Airport.

Whilst the Northern Ireland Tourist Board currently markets Northern Ireland at Dublin Airport and has no presence at Knock Airport they too may give consideration to future campaigns, through visitor servicing and messaging at the airport itself, working with the airlines on destination promotion or through press and advertising in the Knock/Mayo area.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Huge fuel differential further evidence of need for transfer of tax powers - Flanagan

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan who is also vice chair of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee at the Assembly has stated that there is growing evidence of the need to place a focus on the transfer of fuel duty to the north or Ireland.
Speaking following the publishing of a report which indicated that motorists in the north of Ireland pay £10.60 more per week on fuel than in Britain Mr Flanagan said:

“This report demonstrates that motorists in the north of Ireland are in a very different position compared with those in Britain paying on average over £550 extra a year for fuel.

“It therefore makes sense for the powers which determine and set the rate of duty on fuel to be transferred to the local Executive.

“Fuel duty raises approximately £1billion a year in the North which goes directly to the British Treasury. Transferring fuel duty powers to the Executive would bring the ability to vary the levy rather than have it imposed on us from Whitehall.

“The benefits through greater economies of scale for motorists here need to be factored in and through harmonising rates of fuel duty with the rest of Ireland, consumers could make considerable savings with policies being set placing the people who live in Ireland first, not as a cash cow for Westminster."

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Attack on Quinn premises despicable - Flanagan

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has condemned those behind the arson attack on the Headquarters of the Quinn Group in Teemore overnight.

Speaking this morning, Mr. Flanagan said:

"This is a despicable act and is not representative of the local community.

"Those behind these actions are not acting out of loyalty to the Quinn family and are not furthering any cause.

"The only result of such activity will be employment opportunities being impacted upon and that is a matter of grave concern for the people of the local community."

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Foster Must Accept Natural Gas is not Sustainable - Flanagan

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has called for the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster to accept the reality that natural gas is not a sustainable energy source and to bring forward a statutory definition of sustainable energy that does not include any fossil fuels.

Mr Flanagan, who is Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Energy and the Deputy Chair of the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade & Investment Committee, said:

"Arlene Foster's definition of sustainable energy is not sustainable; nowhere else in the developed world would natural gas be defined as sustainable.

"In essence, sustainable means that something can be used, but remain at its current level; but as we all know, fossil fuels are a depleting resource and will run out if we continue to consume them at the current rate.

"New fossil fuel resources will not just form themselves in a decade or a generation. As most of us accept, it takes millions of years for fossil fuels to form.

"But for a party in which so many of its membership think that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, this nonsense probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

"There is no logic in determining natural gas to be a sustainable energy source, even if the Minister seems deluded into thinking that it is low in carbon intensity.

"The Minister needs to bring forward an agreed statutory definition of sustainable energy, one that does not include any fossil fuels."

Notes to Editors:

"Mr Flanagan: To ask the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (i) for her definition of sustainable energy; and (ii) the origin of this definition

Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment Arlene Foster: There is no single definition of sustainable energy set out in legislation. A commonly used definition of sustainable energy includes nuclear, renewable energy and energy efficiency. I would include natural gas given its low carbon contribution.

The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, which extends to Northern Ireland, focuses on the United Kingdom's contribution to combating climate change and among other things to the desirability of securing a diverse and viable long-term energy supply. It is therefore reasonable to infer from this that sustainable energy covers essentially many areas of energy policy."