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Fighting talk, but Foster and McGuinness duck some of the big issues

First Minister and Deputy issue a powerful joint statement in public show of unity, as former UUP MP sides with Dail Opposition leader regarding dangers of leaving Europe

By Suzanne Breen

Published 21/11/2016

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting in Armagh
Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting in Armagh

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness have come out fighting against their critics in their first joint newspaper article together.

They pledged that, unlike their political rivals, they are committed to making Northern Ireland work with "no gimmicks, no grandstanding".

The First and Deputy First Ministers said that while the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance had decided to "duck the challenges and retreat to the Opposition benches", they would tackle the issues and try to improve people's lives.

They said that had they followed the opposition parties out the door, they would have consigned Northern Ireland to years of direct rule by the Tories.

"Rest assured, this Executive is not going to abandon you to that. We are in this for the long haul," they pledged.

In the platform piece published today in this newspaper, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness stressed that although they shared very different core political beliefs "this does not mean filling the airwaves with endless squabbles".

They made no mention of UDA commander Dee Stitt, and his tenure at Charter NI, which has been making media headlines in recent weeks.

While their joint article was strong on positive sentiment, it swerved the key issues which have been dominating public debate.

As well as failing to refer to the controversy of allowing paramilitary leaders to control public money through Stormont's Social Investment Fund (SIF), Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness also chose not to address the thorny issues of dealing with the past and meeting victims' needs.

Rather, they stressed their plans to transform the health service, and to pursue major investment opportunities and create jobs.

They are set to travel to China next month on a trade and political trip.

In the article, the First and Deputy First Ministers insisted that politics was slowly changing for the better in Northern Ireland with the focus increasingly now on policies and delivery.

"We made promises to voters that we will keep - taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions," they said.

"Others decided to duck the challenges and retreat to the Opposition benches. That is a matter for them. We are getting on with the work."

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness admitted that their different political ideologies meant that coalition government wasn't always "easy or straightforward".

But, they insisted, that wouldn't "stop us working together on day-to-day bread and butter issues".

They added: "Our parties will continue to stand up for their core beliefs where necessary - in private and public. This does not mean filling the airwaves with endless squabbles, making the Assembly a by-word for division. It's vital for the peace process that politics can move on. It's also essential for the people we represent."

They stressed that they were proud of their "achievements to date" including, despite budget pressures, having found "extra money to invest in key frontline services".

They pledged that their reforms would make Northern Ireland's health and social care "truly world class".

"No effort is being spared to grow our economy and create new and better jobs. Our inward investment achievements are already the envy of other regions. We are also building on our action plan to tackle paramilitarism, working alongside law enforcement agencies to end this scourge," they said.

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness said that the focus on their Programme for Government was "firmly on outcomes that make a real difference."

They added: "We are also pushing ahead with major infrastructure projects, not least for our roads network."

Belfast Telegraph

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