SDLP's refusal to take up health portfolio defended by minister
Nichola Mallon has defended her party's decision not to assume the health portfolio in the new Stormont Executive.
Prior to its formation, the SDLP deputy leader had said there was a need for a junior minister dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of people in Northern Ireland.
Her call, at the start of January, came after the deaths of a number of people by suicide - including an 11-year-old boy - over the Christmas and New Year period.
Explaining her position in a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Ms Mallon also said she will continue to lobby for the creation of a new ministerial role dedicated to the issue.
"We felt that the Health Minister should be very much supported by a party colleague in the position of finance," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"No party disagreed with that [in the talks process] so we were somewhat surprised when neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP took the health portfolio.
"We have decided to take infrastructure, but I've said to Health Minister Robin Swann that we are there to support him and we will not play politics with health.
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"Mental health is not just the responsibility of the minister for health, it's actually the responsibility of every single minister in the Executive.
"It's an area I'm focused on in infrastructure. That's why I want to encourage people to walk more, cycle more, to be connected more.
"That's not just good for our planet an climate action, it's also good for people's physical and mental health."
Ms Mallon also voiced support for signs of hope to be erected on bridges in Belfast and Londonderry "to help people who might be struggling".
"I want to work with communities and those who are on the front line of mental health and addiction services," she said.
"I was at the forefront of pushing for signs of hope in Belfast Castle and Cavehill and that has made a positive difference.
"I want to see what my department can do to promote positive mental health and wellbeing, but we need a junior minister dedicated to this."