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Hillsborough Agreement is a phony deal, says SDLP’s new leader

By David Gordon

New SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has dubbed the Hillsborough Castle deal a “non-agreement” and warned her party may take legal action if it is denied the Stormont Justice Ministry.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Ritchie also did not rule out a SDLP withdrawal from the Executive.

And she was scathing of the new Government advertising campaign on the Hillsborough Agreement, describing it as “phony”.

Asked if she believed the DUP and Sinn Fein would work together successfully at Stormont in the wake of the recent deal, the SDLP leader said: “I've been in the Executive and I've seen evidence of their alleged working together.

“I see evidence of them using Government money to promote a non-agreement.

“By and large that's just about Peter and Martin publicising themselves. This advertising campaign is absolutely phoney.

“How can you have an advertising campaign about an arrangement that has so many loose ends to tie up?”

On the question of how her party will respond if the Justice Ministry goes — as expected — to the Alliance Party, Ms Ritchie said: “All options will be on the table to be discussed by my colleagues and myself — all options including do we take a legal case about the denial of the nationalist mandate?”

She further stated: “The Hillsborough Agreement is a Hillsborough arrangement. It consists of one new department and three working groups and there is no finality in respect of that.

“The SDLP wants the implementation of the devolution of policing and justice powers, so we welcome the progress in that respect.

“What we are deeply concerned about is the denial of the nationalist mandate. It's not about a job.

“It's about the fact that this is a gerrymander to suit a DUP veto, with the acquiescence of Sinn Fein.”

The new party leader also called for the Parades Commission to be retained and given an enhanced role on mediation.

It is anticipated that the replacement of the body will be a key outcome of the DUP-Sinn Fein working group tasked with finding a way forward on parading by next week.

Ms Ritchie said nationalist residents on Portadown's Garvaghy Road shared the SDLP's position on keeping the commission.

“They feel that the Parades Commission has been their best form of protection,” she said.

Ms Ritchie said she was in favour of “engagement” with other parties viewed as on the centre ground.

“That is different from alliances because we have our different political perspectives.”

Asked if a “unionist unity” pact between the DUP and UUP could scupper cooperation between her party and the Ulster Unionists, Ms Ritchie said: “I don't believe in sectarian headcounts. I don't think that is the way to go.

“I think people on the ground don't want things to go in terms of sectarian headcounts.

“They want us to build reconciliation, they want us to build a shared society.”

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