Martin McGuinness defends Sinn Fein pact with the DUP
Sinn Fein has launched its first major defence of the 'Fresh Start' deal with the DUP in the face of a stinging attack from the SDLP.
In an article for the Belfast Telegraph today, Martin McGuinness said: "We could either work to do the best deal possible... or we could walk away and content ourselves with sniping from the sidelines. We chose to do the former because that's what responsible parties do."
The Deputy First Minister argued transferring responsibility to Westminster on welfare was "simply a technical matter" and made clear his party supports the reduction of corporation tax.
Fault lines appeared in the party's position after senior Belfast councillor Jim McVeigh said Sinn Fein would not sign up to the cut unless it could be afforded "and we won't be able to afford it anytime soon."
Mr McGuinness countered, however: "The fact is that the harmonisation of corporation tax on the island of Ireland is expected to generate thousands of new jobs in the North and for an administration that doesn't yet have full fiscal powers, we have a responsibility to utilise all levers at our disposal that can regenerate our economy and provide employment, opportunity, hope and a reason to stay for our young people."
New SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said last week that Sinn Fein should be "ashamed" at their "complete capitulation" in handing welfare reform back to Westminster.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday, the man who replaced Alasdair McDonnell argued it was the first instance of republicans handing back hard-won powers to the British Government.
Opening up a key electoral battleground with his main rivals, he went on: "Much of that deal has now been proven to be so transparently awful that Sinn Fein's chief negotiators are finding it difficult to hide their shame. And ashamed they should be."
However, Mr McGuinness responded by saying that Mr Eastwood had spent 90% of his article attacking Sinn Fein when it was the SDLP that needed positive leadership.
"Is the SDLP really so bereft of its own ideas that it must constantly define itself by reference to Sinn Fein?" he asked.
Foyle MLA Mr Eastwood also said the worst aspect was the failure of the deal two weeks ago to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, and called for proposed legislation which Sinn Fein rejected because of Government strictures over national security to be published.
However, the Deputy First Minister said that the Government "ruled out any prospect of this being resolved when they rejected reasonable proposals which sought to balance the right to disclosure with their need to protect their national security."