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SDLP and Sinn Fein in war of words over claims of 'secretive' decisions

By Noel McAdam

Published 07/11/2016

Nichola Mallon
Nichola Mallon
Mairtin O Muilleoir

A new row has erupted between Sinn Fein and the SDLP following a claim that the current Stormont Executive is the "most secretive" in the history of devolution.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, however, has in turn accused the opposition parties of "spurious" allegations over a recent share-out of unspent departmental cash.

SDLP Assembly member Nichola Mallon pledged her party will break up the "cosy" relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein after Mr O Muilleoir appeared to confirm that details of ministerial bids for public money will no longer be made public.

In a written answer to the Assembly, the Sinn Fein minister said that the former system led to slow and cumbersome negotiations.

And he said the details of the deliberations will not be disclosed, which was in line with the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, as well as the Irish government.

Mrs Mallon argued, however: "With each passing day, the shroud of secrecy descends further around the business of this government.

"Withholding information about public finances, which have always been supplied to the public, smacks of secrecy and fear from ministers who have been placed on the back foot by the Opposition.

"This is without doubt the most secretive government in the history of devolution. But they can be assured that we will continue to break up and break down their cosy establishment."

The North Belfast MLA had already claimed that Mr O Muilleoir was out of step with his party colleague, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, on the issue of transparency and the need for Assembly committees to be able to properly scrutinise ministers.

"On September 21, the Deputy First Minister said that the government would do 'everything in our power' to ensure the requirements of committees are met and that there were simply problems with the June Monitoring Round.

"Now his Finance Minister has arrogantly rejected that statement, instead branding the June Monitoring Round 'efficient' and decreeing that the public will no longer be provided with details of monitoring round bids.

"With each passing day, the shroud of secrecy descends further around the business of this government."

Mr O Muilleoir hit back at the SDLP MLA and said: "As I explained to Ms Mallon the reason why the details of monitoring bids are not provided is because there are no bids.

"Instead of submitting a wish list of unrealistic bids for additional resources my officials are in constant contact with departments about their pressures.

"The Executive can then quickly decide where best to allocate resources.

"As in Scotland, Wales and the south of Ireland the outcome of those deliberations is disclosed for public scrutiny."

The minister added: "While there is no secrecy around monitoring rounds the focus of the Opposition is something of a mystery.

"Perhaps the explanation is that they are unable to criticise the outcome of the monitoring round, which delivered for health, for the economy, and for working class communities - and have instead resorted to spurious complaints about the process."

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