Belfast Telegraph

DUP and SF play blame game over crisis in public services due to deadlock

By Allan Preston

The DUP and Sinn Fein have accused each other of putting selfish interests above the needs of the public as pressure on vital public services intensifies.

Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill insisted yesterday that Stormont could be restored if the DUP ended its "stubborn anti-equality blockade".

But former DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton hit back saying republicans collapsed Stormont for "selfish political reasons" and called for them to "get real".

Mrs O'Neill said she was "determined" to see the restoration of the power-sharing institutions and welcomed a public letter this week from 200 prominent nationalist figures in Northern Ireland to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The letter called on the Irish Government to uphold the Good Friday Agreement after almost a year with no Stormont Assembly and the ongoing uncertainty created by the Brexit negotiations.

The high profile signatories to the letter included Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean and Professor Phil Scraton from Queen's University.

The letter also detailed how many nationalists considered the UK's exit from Europe as "offensive and unacceptable", and attacked the Conservatives' pact with the DUP, calling it a grave threat to political progress.

In her statement, Mrs O'Neill said that the ongoing cuts to public services here were down to the DUP's support for the Tory Government's policy of austerity.

"The DUP need to start listening, because the challenges facing our public services, particularly our health and education systems, require the attention and knowledge of locally elected and accountable ministers working collectively in the Executive," she said.

"The need for cohesive political leadership to drive forward the transformation of our health service set out in the Bengoa Report is the most urgent example of this."

She argued the DUP's "anti-rights and anti-equality stance" meant it was putting "unpopular party and personal views ahead of our health, education and other essential public services".

Most MLAs, she added, were "progressive" and wanted to see marriage equality, language rights and legacy inquests from the Troubles delivered. "The main block to the delivery of these basic rights and to the full and immediate restoration of the political institutions is the DUP," she insisted.

"Its anti-rights agenda is entirely out of sync with public opinion across these islands. The British Government also needs to stop pandering to the DUP by allowing them to block rights they afford their own constituents."

But Mr Hamilton responded: "Every passing day we see the worsening effects Sinn Fein's decision to place their own party-political demands above the needs of the public.

"It's now time Sinn Fein got real. Everyone knows Sinn Fein collapsed Stormont for selfish political reasons.

"Everyone knows Sinn Fein walked out of the talks when their shopping list of red lines wasn't being advanced."

Mr Hamilton also claimed Mrs O'Neill's statement had only been released to appease her own voters, who wanted devolution back.

"Regardless of your religion or political outlook, everyone wants key education and health reforms delivered," he said.

"These issues are more important than the sort of Irish language legislation with bells and whistles that Sinn Fein is holding out for."

He said it "spoke volumes" that Sinn Fein's best response during the political turmoil of recent weeks was to add "white line pickets to their red line demands".

Belfast Telegraph

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