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SDLP's Mallon hits out at Sinn Fein, claiming party only looks to its 'own version of rights'

By Noel McAdam

A former SDLP deputy leader has launched a blistering attack on Sinn Fein's constant emphasis on "rights".

Seamus Mallon insisted the only rights Sinn Fein had looked after in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement belonged to republicans.

"Look at what they got. All they got was early release for their own members, the concessions for 'on-the-runs' and other prisoners' issues," the SDLP grandee said.

Now aged 80, the former Deputy First Minister said he had often been told over the years that the Civil Rights movement would not have achieved much "without the violence of the IRA".

But, he said: "What in fact did the IRA get through violence that wasn't obtained through the civil rights movement and by the SDLP?

"Measure what they got for their members against the creation of the Housing Executive, the fair employment legislation and the Policing Bill, for example."

Mr Mallon, who has been out on the general election campaign trail with SDLP South Down candidate Margaret Ritchie, also asked why Sinn Fein had not been "screaming about rights" during the Nama revelations, the Red Sky allegations and the early part of the Renewable Incentive Heating scheme scandal.

Mr Mallon, who left full-time politics to become a carer for his late wife Gertrude, said Sinn Fein had its own definition of 'rights' which the republican party has insisted must be established before it will return to power-sharing government with the DUP. "They look after their version of rights and absolutely nothing in terms of the community they are elected to serve," he added.

"In fact the minister who has started the shutdown of the accident and emergency at Daisy Hill hospital in Newry is the Sinn Fein leader in the Assembly (Michelle O'Neill, who had been Health Minister).

"And in the last few weeks we have had the closure of two schools in this constituency - a decision by civil servants."

Mr Mallon, who joined the civil rights movement after a local councillor told him that 'No Catholic papist litter' would get a house in Markethill as long as he was alive, juxtaposed his early experiences in the 1960s with the contemporary emphasis on rights.

"We knew we couldn't get rid of any of the ills in Northern Ireland by marching up and down the street," he said.

"There were only two ways to go. There was the political process and there was the violence process.

"We took the stand from day one that we were not going to be involved in violence in any way or validate it in any way."

The veteran politician who served with First Minister David, now Lord, Trimble also renewed his criticism of Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy - and told how his personal intervention had helped save the Policing Bill under former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson.

"I went to Chequers on a Sunday and said I wanted to see the Prime Minister. I was told he was busy. The cheek of me," he said.

"But finally Tony (Blair) arrived smiling with the teeth glistening and before long there was a guillotine motion down which also meant we had to start from scratch to get the Bill right. There is where the presence in Westminster counts."

The former Newry & Armagh MP, said he hoped people would vote "with their heads rather than their hearts" and support Mrs Ritchie in the election.

Hitting back last night, Sinn Fein said: "Seamus Mallon and the SDLP built a career claiming victories won by the people protesting on the streets for civil rights.

"The SDLP have failed to achieve anything sitting on the green benches of Westminster.

"They failed to stop Brexit, they failed to stop Tory cuts and they failed to stop women having to prove they were raped in order to access tax credits.

"The SDLP are also the party of abstention from the Executive, from the north-south ministerial council and all-Ireland implementation bodies."

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