SDLP claims Sinn Fein risks returning power to the Tories
A war of words has erupted between the SDLP and Sinn Fein over the re-introduction of direct rule if a deal to save Stormont isn't reached by Monday.
The SDLP is accusing Sinn Fein of risking the return of power to the Tories, while Sinn Fein says its nationalist rival isn't defending the Good Friday Agreement.
The row began on Monday after Sinn Fein national chairman Declan Kearney rounded on Colum Eastwood.
"The SDLP leader has said his party will not compromise on direct rule, but he has still not said what elements of the equality and rights agenda the SDLP now want to compromise to re-establish the Executive and Assembly," Mr Kearney said.
"The crisis will not be resolved by continuous cheap criticism from the sidelines. Has (the SDLP) abandoned the equality and rights agenda?"
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan yesterday hit back: "Declan Kearney's intervention is, as usual, an exercise in distraction.
"Colum Eastwood has said very clearly that any return to direct rule and handing over our hard won powers is a compromise the SDLP is not prepared to make. Mr Kearney should make a similar declaration."
Calling on Sinn Fein to "come clean", Mr McCrossan said the party should "state categorically if they are willing to compromise all that we have achieved over the last 20 years and hand power over equality and citizen's rights to a Tory government under the whip hand of Arlene Foster and the DUP. Is that their strategy?"
He added: "Since partition, the nationalist community was long denied power.
"No nationalist should seek a return to such a position. Having erased the voice of nationalism at Westminster, Sinn Fein cannot be allowed to erase it from Stormont as well."
But Mr Kearney replied: "It is a shocking indictment of the SDLP that its spokespersons obsess with attacking Sinn Fein.
"Increasingly it appears the SDLP has abandoned the equality and rights agenda, and the need to stand up against those opposed to the Good Friday Agreement."