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SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie defends her economic position from a pincer attack

By Noel McAdam

Economic competence returned to dominate the Assembly election yesterday as the DUP and Sinn Fein combined to criticise SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie.

The double-barrelled attack came after Ms Ritchie in turn attacked both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness over recent economy-related comments.

Her attack came as she became the latest senior politician to address the NI Chamber of Commerce with a wide-ranging speech, within days of headline-grabbing appearances by the First and Deputy First Ministers.

Towards the end, however, she rounded on Mr Robinson over his comments to the organisation that his party’s economic policies “are better suited to many Catholics than the left-of-centre policies of the nationalist parties”.

“All I can say,” Ms Ritchie went on, “is that the SDLP does not do economic policies for Catholics or for Protestants.

“We need to unite people if we are going to build prosperity in this region.

“We seek to serve everyone equally and we invite DUP voters to look at our proposals.

“As for Martin, his big idea is another levy on the local banks —£400m over the Budget period.

“Does he not realise that while it might be populist and a clever stroke to have a pop at the banks, our four local banks are in no position to pay?

“Two of the local banks are effectively publicly-owned and all of them are laying off staff and struggling to extend credit to business.

“The Sinn Fein levy would put thousands of ordinary bank workers — who are not to blame for the financial mess — on the dole, and make it even harder for businesses to borrow.”

DUP junior minister Robin Newton hit back, saying: “Because the SDLP and Sinn Fein are left-wing parties, many Roman Catholics have felt unable to vote for the representatives who share the same economic views they hold.

“There are undoubtedly many people who have voted SDLP or Sinn Fein because of constitutional politics, but in reality their economic views lie much closer to those of the DUP.

“Rather than Margaret Ritchie attacking the DUP for setting out our low tax and pro-business |polices, she should recognise that the SDLP’s left-wing ideological stance is not good for our economy,” he added.

In a statement, Sinn Fein said: “The SDLP defence of the banks which have created this economic crisis is totally out of step with the vast majority of people across Ireland.”

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