Belfast Telegraph

Economy 'should top poll agenda'

The Assembly's two largest parties have said economic issues should top the election agenda, despite the recent focus on which of them might seize the First Minister's title.

DUP leader Peter Robinson became the first of his party's candidates to hand in nomination papers and he urged support for the DUP to help keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams highlighted his party's growing all-Ireland mandate, but he also raised the need to focus on helping the disadvantaged, including communities he said were being failed by "big house unionism".

Mr Robinson hit at those behind the Londonderry bomb alert and said it was evidence of the need to ensure democracy overcame the threat of violence on the May 5 polling day for Assembly and local government elections.

"The Assembly election is an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to build on the progress we have made over the last decade," he said. "Only today we saw in Londonderry that there are evil criminals determined to drag our country backwards. We can, through our votes, show those terrorists that they will not succeed."

Mr Adams, who is now a TD for the Louth area and heads his party's enlarged Dail team, launched a poster campaign in Belfast underlining the party's all-island support. He dismissed recent speculation over which party would emerge as the largest in the Assembly poll.

"The unionist parties are engaged in a sham fight over the title of First Minister," he said.

"The reality is that there is not one iota of difference in the powers of the First and Deputy First Minister. Both are co-equal holders of the office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. For our part Sinn Fein is more concerned with delivery."

He added: "The real issues in this election are the creation of jobs, the protection of existing jobs and the effective provision of public services, whether in health, or the environment, or housing, or in local government."

Sinn Fein and the DUP have clashed with the UUP and SDLP over the cuts in the Assembly budget, but Mr Adams said his party would challenge the spending reductions imposed by the Westminster government and would press for devolution of fiscal powers.

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