Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has been accused of using the coronavirus crisis as a “political opportunity” after claiming it is a “greater accelerant” to a united Ireland than Brexit.
Mrs McDonald has been highly critical of the British Government’s approach to Covid-19 and described the lack of a single health policy across the island of Ireland as “astonishing”.
Her comments came after junior minister Declan Kearney accused “some unionists” in Northern Ireland of putting the economy ahead of public health, claiming there was a push to relax lockdown rules to help the economy.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken accused the Sinn Fein president of “attempting to advance” her party’s political ideology.
Using the tragic death of many hundreds of people, especially the most vulnerable in our society, as an opportunity to score political points is perverseSteve Aiken, UUP
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.
“Every single death is a tragedy.
“Comparisons by some pundits and politicians presented as if it’s a competition in death are utterly grotesque.
“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.”
Yet again we see how vulnerable we are when we have two jurisdictions, two systems, on the islandMary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein
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.”