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Sinn Fein's Kearney accuses 'some unionists' of putting economy over health during coronavirus crisis

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Declan Kearney

Declan Kearney

Declan Kearney

Sinn Fein's national chairperson Declan Kearney has accused "some unionists" in Northern Ireland of putting the economy ahead of public health.

UUP leader Steve Aiken rejected the comments describing them as "ideological waffle" saying it was vitally important all in the Executive pulled together as one. He said the virus "should not be politicised".

He questioned if Sinn Fein was a "party of protest or a party of government".

"We can't have four parties pulling together and one party on the outside," he said.

Junior Minister Kearney claimed some in unionism wanted coronavirus lockdown measures relaxed in order to help the economy. A proposal he said was also supported by "ring-wing elements" in the UK Government.

"Disturbingly, the extension of lockdown in the short term masks an argument which is being encouraged by some right-wing elements in the British Cabinet, and also by some unionists in the north of Ireland, that the lockdown measures should be relaxed, and that economic activity and productivity should be resumed," the South Antrim MLA wrote in An Phoblacht.

"It is the typical capitalist reflex which puts the market economy first.

"Corporate greed over public welfare.

"The elevation of neo-liberal values and priorities above what’s actually needed at this time."

Mr Kearney said that "talk of getting back to normal is completely misplaced"

"There will of course need to be preparations for economic reconstruction, but that must not take place separate to, or in isolation from a strategic debate about the future of public health," he said.

"Free market economic interests must not be allowed to take primacy over the health priorities and wellbeing of wider society.

"This is one of the big ideological challenges which faces Irish society beyond Covid-19."

Sinn Fein party president Mary Lou McDonald told BBC Talkback public health measures had to trump the economy. She said she agreed with the points made and it was important to "do the right thing" and there was a conversation to be had about how the lockdown ended.

She rejected a suggestion Mr Kearney had made the matter a political green and orange issue.

"Tory austerity, that unionism unfortunately backed up, that type of mentality and austerity cannot feature again on our horizon, that's what Declan is saying, Declan is right to say that. I absolutely agree with him," Mrs McDonald said.

"That austerity formula, that hurt so many people in the aftermath of the banking crash, is not the answer this time. It would make what is already a very, very difficult situation much worse."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said focus should be on saving lives and not "political point scoring".

He added: "As the Health Minister, Robin Swann has spelt out, at the end of this the only thing dividing us will be those who are still alive and those who are dead. When we are through this, there will be plenty of time for analysis, but for now we need to make sure as many people as possible survive.”

Belfast Telegraph