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SDLP’s fresh blast for first ministers at campaign launch

A return to attacking Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness dominated the delayed SDLP election campaign launch.

Leader Margaret Ritchie spoke of the “high profile conversion” of First Minister Robinson to shared education — and questioned whether it is genuine.

Ms Ritchie said even the authors of the Stormont blueprint on tackling sectarianism — DUP leader Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — were now disowning it.

With SDLP plans for social housing at the Girdwood former military site under fire from unionists, she said: “I am waiting to see if others will come round to our position on shared housing.”

She added: “Even though these conversions are coming late, after four years in government, if they are genuine, then they are welcome.”

Her attack came after the party’s sole Executive minister Alex Attwood last week accused Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness of treating Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey with “ferocity and aggression”.

“Before Executive meetings the bigger parties get together and decide what is going to happen. Then they announce it to the rest of us,” Mr Attwood told the Belfast Telegraph.

Yesterday, at the launch in the

Hilton Hotel in Belfast, the Social Development Minister said that unless other ministers grasped the difference between being in power and being in government, the people of Northern Ireland would be in “more difficult circumstances than they need to be”.

Chairman Joe Byrne, a west Tyrone candidate, said the party is running 27 other candidates in all 18 constituencies, and a quarter of them are under 40.

It is also putting up 150 candidates for local councils, including party members from Poland, Lithuania and Portugal.

The launch was postponed from Monday as a mark of respect to PSNI constable Ronan Kerr.

Ms Ritchie said the killing last Saturday in Omagh highlighted the importance of co-operation between political parties and Mr Byrne said the party endorsed the view that Catholics who wanted to should join the police service.

“I think most of us do actually believe that a true partnership government can make the North a better place,” the party leader added.

The central question of the party’s campaign is who has the ideas and which party is best placed to deliver.

“Who can map out the way to a shared future that replaces the discredited OFMDFM strategy that is now disowned by even its authors?

“I know it is the SDLP,” Ms Ritchie told supporters.

“I believe we can broker agreement and end the chaos in education, put collapsed local government reform back on track and mark the way ahead on parading, victims of the Troubles, and dealing with the past.

“We must unite people and build prosperity.”

Belfast Telegraph