Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein defend single mention of health in election manifesto as strike crisis looms

Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019
Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019 Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

Sinn Fein has defended only mentioning health once in its General Election manifesto.

The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson accused the party of “taking people for granted” after publishing a manifesto with “not a single mention of our elderly, school reforms, health reforms, new roads or communities living without proper broadband”.

Sir Jeffrey said the manifesto included seven attacks on the DUP and 16 mentions of a united Ireland.

He was speaking as around 16,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) began industrial action over pay and staffing levels. The nurses will refuse to do any work that is not “patient specific”.

On December 18 nurses across Northern Ireland are set to take full strike action and a walkout will take place.

The party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill defended the sole mention of health saying the election on December 12 was “about Brexit”.

“Obviously health is a huge topic,” she told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.

“This election is fundamentally about Brexit, it’s about the rejection of Brexit, the DUP and the chaos at Westminster.

“We say this in every election — this is the most important election. But this is the most important. The decisions we take now will shape a generation.”

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Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sir Jeffrey said that Sinn Fein were more concerned with the Irish language that other matters.

“I know Irish is important to some people and they deserve proper respect, but hospitals are important to everyone,” the Lagan Valley Westminster candidate said.

“Whilst the DUP has delivered £1.5bn for hospitals, schools and roads, SF has delivered nothing but chaos and now want a mandate to sit in Westminster and do nothing.”

Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew said Sir Jeffrey’s comments were “a bit rich coming from the party whose health minister refused to award a pay rise to nurses and firefighters”.

“The DUP have also given the Tories a blank cheque to decimate our economy, agriculture and communities through their reckless Brexit agenda,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminster candidate said.

“We want the Assembly and Executive up and running — it’s time the DUP woke up and faced reality by getting back around the table and ending their denial of rights.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said that his party believed it was “time for a direct rule minister to step in”.

“It’s time we had a minister of health who can actually make decisions and help to break the stalemate which currently exists,” he said.

“There’s a clear need to increase pay for health care staff, but the permanent secretary feels that they are constrained by the policy of the last Executive of which Sinn Fein played a major part.

“Grandstanding from the sidelines is irresponsible and patients and staff are currently suffering.”

Michelle Gildernew

Speaking on Talkback, Ms O’Neill defended her record as health minister at Stormont.

She said in her nine months she attempted to bring about transformation of the health service.

“In that short time in the department I am actually quite proud of what I was able to do. Not least the fact I was able to look at a 1% consolidating pay up lift. That was far from perfect but it was a step in the right direction,” Ms O’Neill said.

She said she was unable to introduce pay rises for health staff due to Treasury calls for continued pay restraint.

The Mid Ulster MLA refused to apologise for the move, saying the health service was on its knees because of Tory austerity which was “foisted upon us”.

She said nurses should be awarded pay parity with their colleagues in the rest of the UK.

“No one should apology for Tory austerity, that was a choice for a Tory government,” Ms O’Neill said.

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