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DUP's Arlene Foster slams UUP as parties clash over Programme for Government

By Noel McAdam

Arlene Foster has poured scorn on the Ulster Unionist Party's apparent contribution to drawing up the blueprint to govern Northern Ireland for the next four years.

The First Minister claimed most of the 810 submissions to consultations on the Programme for Government - which came mainly from the public and other civic organisations - had been longer than the UUP's reply.

She used Question Time in the Assembly to attack the biggest opposition party, and her main electoral rivals, and said if the UUP were meant to be an Opposition and provide an alternative, they had failed to do so.

She was responding to her party colleague William Irwin, who asked if the UUP document was substantive "and, if so, whether there were any ideas in it worth taking on board"?

Mrs Foster replied that the UUP's paper had "one - only one - item that the party wanted to bring to the attention of the Executive".

"Bear in mind that it has had months to put together its response to the Programme for Government. This is what we get: 'In recognition of the legacy of the Troubles, we suggest the outcomes should include specific references to victims and survivors beyond the general comment. We care for others and we help those in need'. And it gives us draft wording. That is it."

The SDLP's Claire Hanna said her party had put in 50 legislative proposals, but told Mrs Foster "the UUP are not there to be a think tank for you".

The First Minister replied: "It is there as an Opposition and it is meant to put forward an alternative. It has not done so. Until it does, it should reflect on that."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson asked Mrs Foster if she was embarrassed the document was "sneaked out" on the eve of the Halloween holidays and contained a "paucity" of actual targets.

Mrs Foster said: "I am certainly not embarrassed about putting the document out. I am sorry if the member was off on his holidays and was not able to read that."

In response an Ulster Unionist Party statement last night said: "The letter we submitted was a critique of the Executive's failure to deliver on their own Fresh Start promises - a year ago this week - not a substantive contribution to the consultation.

"This calendar year we have published no fewer than 10 substantive policy documents, stretching to over 57,000 words. The DUP know exactly where to look if they are desperate for ideas."

The First Minister's attack came after she was asked by the UUP's Robin Swann whether she had any discussions with the Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir over setting aside money for the financial implications of the renewable heat incentive scheme.

It was strongly criticised in an Audit Office report published earlier this year.

Mrs Foster replied: "That is a very creative way in which to get the renewable heat incentive scheme into First Minister's questions. We are engaging weekly with the Finance Minister on the Budget."

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