Belfast Telegraph

SDLP wants fewer Assembly members

The number of Northern Ireland Assembly members should be reduced to 96, the SDLP has said.

The party is fielding 28 Stormont candidates for the May elections and 150 candidates for council positions.

Leader Margaret Ritchie said jobs for young people and reform of public services were the party's priorities.

"It is time to stop taking congratulatory slaps on the back and stop taking curtain calls, the public are looking for delivery," she said.

The SDLP will introduce its candidates next week and outline proposals on the economy before it launches its manifesto on April 20. Ms Ritchie, South Down candidate, said there should be 16 constituencies and 96 MLAs, down from the current 108.

Although the SDLP may like to take the education portfolio after the election, West Belfast candidate Alex Attwood refused to speculate. He criticised the performance of Sinn Fein Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy and Education Minister Caitriona Ruane.

Mr Attwood insisted: "While everyone values stability, it is a lesson that will run out of steam. Everyone wants to know what comes after stability.

"Stability is an achievement, everyone welcomes it. The fact that we have devolution is an achievement, everyone welcomes that. But people are asking what devolution really does in terms of moving on. The energy has been taken out of it. You cannot on the one hand say, 'We have stability'. And on the other hand say, 'Who has the top job?'."

He said the SDLP agreed with Martin McGuinness that appointing joint first ministers was the solution if Sinn Fein became the largest party after the election.

Mr Attwood said an emergency Executive meeting should have been called over the situation at Altnagelvin hospital where Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said not enough money was available to run a new cancer centre. "Now is the moment to create certainty and let the people in Derry and Dublin know," he added.

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