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Coronavirus: Unionists accuse Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald of using pandemic for 'political gain'

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Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

Unionists have hit out at comments made by Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald that the current coronavirus crisis is a greater "accelerant" to a united Ireland than Brexit.

Ms McDonald told the Sunday Times newspaper that in her view the pandemic "dwarfs Brexit in terms of reflecting the danger of partition". She also called for an all-island approach to health.

Mrs McDonald has recently returned to work after contracting Covid-19.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson called for Sinn Fein to "dial down the rhetoric and political point scoring".

"This is not the time for constitutional naval gazing," he said.

"This crisis should not be exploited for political gain. Mary Lou McDonald’s comments that coronavirus is an ‘accelerator’ for a united Ireland are gratuitous. But they are not in isolation.

"Whether closing schools, the purchase of PPE, the MoD increasing bed capacity or cooperation throughout the British Isles, Sinn Fein has reduced almost every decision to a constitutional matter."

Mr Wilson said there had been a "remarkable degree" of collective responsibility from ministers across the other four Executive parties, but said Sinn Fein has "stood semi detached, more ready to criticise than to collaborate".

"Mary Lou McDonald ignores the fact that the resources available to our hospitals and support measures for our economy are a result of being part of the United Kingdom," he said.

UUP leader Steve AIken said it was "utterly shameful" that Mary Lou McDonald should use the pandemic as a "political opportunity".

He said: “The message from the Health Minister Robin Swann is clear. We cannot afford to be complacent about social distancing otherwise we risk seeing the number of deaths rising.

"That should be our focus. It's utterly shameful that Mary Lou McDonald should seek to use this public health emergency to attempt to create selfish political opportunity in a crisis to advance Sinn Fein political ideology, following hard on the heels of Declan Kearney`s ill-judged comments."

Mr Kearney was criticised after suggesting that "some unionists" were putting the economy over health during the coronavirus crisis, comments which Mr Aiken described as "ideological waffle".

“Every single death is a tragedy. Comparisons by some pundits and politicians presented as if it`s a competition in death are utterly grotesque," the South Antrim MLA added.

"It isn't helpful, especially as data is not always comparable and not all measure from the same point. This is the first wave of a potentially multi-wave pandemic that we are only seeing the beginning stages of.

“Using the tragic death of many hundreds of people, especially the most vulnerable in our society, as an opportunity to score political points is perverse.

"The peer reviewed epidemiological history of this will be written in years to come, not by pundits and politicians taking skewed snapshots to score political points.”

Splits have emerged between the DUP and Sinn Fein within the Northern Ireland Executive, with Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill speaking out over testing and personal protective equipment, while last week the parties disagreed over whether to reopen graveyards.

Mrs McDonald told the Sunday Times newspaper that Ms O'Neill "had to have some pretty tough conversations" over health policy.

She said: "When Brexit happened, people said this is an accelerant in terms of the unity debate, because it was so obvious with the danger to the border.

"We have an all-Ireland single policy for animal health but not for public health.

"Everything we do to keep people safe has to be on the understanding we are a single population on a small island and have to look after each other.

"I think the fact that Boris Johnson and the British Government opted early on for the herd immunity approach meant that Michelle O'Neill had to have some pretty tough conversations to get the northern system in tandem with what was happening in the South.

"Yet again we see how vulnerable we are when we have two jurisdictions, two systems, on the island."

Belfast Telegraph