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Spiky exchanges between the parties as security on agenda

The SDLP has accused the First Minister of asking the Irish government to divert funding away from North-South projects and into the hands of loyalists to prevent paramilitaries from carrying out attacks.

Margaret Ritchie made the claim at an angry Westminster debate on Northern Ireland security, which follows in the wake of the dissident republican murder of prison officer David Black.

There were bad-tempered exchanges in the House of Commons between the DUP and the SDLP as MPs discussed what seemed an uncontroversial motion on the Northern Ireland terror threat.

The DUP’s opposition day debate took up six hours of Parliamentary time in the Commons, and included a second motion on care for Armed Forces veterans.

During the tetchy debate, David Simpson, DUP MP for Upper Bann, attacked the SDLP over a Dungannon Council motion calling for the release of former IRA man Gerry McGeough, who was convicted of the 1981 attempted murder of Sammy Brush, now a DUP councillor.

Mr Simpson branded the SDLP “appalling” for suggesting Mr Mc Geough had been victimised.

He told MPs: “Such behaviour is an affront against any innocent victim of terrorism.

“He should not be released until he has served his full sentence, and that is the end of the story.”

But Ms Ritchie hit out at “barbed” attacks on her party, branding them “absolutely scandalous”.

She said: “It’s not just Sinn Fein who need to do more... the party behind this motion can sometimes be uncomfortably close to some of the hard men on the other side.”

She claimed that DUP leader Peter Robinson had asked for funding to be directed to “community projects for loyalists — because loyalist paramilitaries were getting restless and increasingly of a disposition to strike out”.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, demanded to see evidence for her “ridiculous statement”.

MPs of all parties paid tribute to murdered prison officer David Black, and agreed with the DUP’s motion calling on the Government to work with the Executive “in providing the fullest protection possible” to Prison Service staff in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph