Belfast Telegraph

Clash over government reduction bid

The two main unionist parties have clashed over a call for a reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland government.

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott called for the number of Stormont departments to be cut from 12 to eight.

But DUP chief whip Peter Weir said the shape of the power-sharing administration had been negotiated by the UUP in talks that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Mr Elliott said the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein were deadlocked on important policies of government and he called for better cooperation in the five-party Executive.

"The Ulster Unionist Party will fight for what is right for everyone in Northern Ireland," he told delegates at his party's annual conference in Armagh on Saturday.

He added: "Now that the review of the Justice Minister appointment process is fast approaching - it is due in May 2012 - there is a perfect opportunity to streamline and develop a more efficient Northern Ireland government. All parties have said they want to reduce the level of government structures at Stormont - now is your chance.

"With the ongoing review we have now time to reduce the current number of government departments from 12 to, let's say, at least eight. That is a reduction of one-third of that administration, right at the heart of the Executive.

"I now challenge others to follow the lead of the Ulster Unionist Party - let's cut that burden on our taxpayers, make ourselves more efficient and give the public value for their money."

But DUP representative Mr Weir said the Ulster Unionist leader was struggling to make his party relevant in the wake of a poor Assembly election, and he accused him of claiming credit for policies that the Democratic Unionists had led the way on.

"The UUP is also responsible for there being too many government Departments at Stormont as it was the UUP who created the structure," said Mr Weir. "With Tom's attempts at both comedy and mimicry having fallen so flat, it was only the usual attacks on fellow unionists and harking back to a long-gone golden era which could cheer up those who bothered to turn up."

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