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Ritchie pledges to tackle fuel poverty

By Noel McAdam

One Executive Minister today pledged to push ahead unilaterally with an action plan to tackle fuel poverty despite the Stormont stalemate.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie warned her plans — using the urgent procedure mechanism would affect several other departments.

And the SDLP Minister argued her blueprint still needs the imprint of a collective Executive to put pressure on the energy companies to contribute.

In the absence of a scheduled Executive meeting for another fortnight, individual Ministers can urge the use of the procedure within the Ministerial Code which let last week’s British Irish Council meeting go ahead.

Ms Ritchie needs the formal approval of First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, but not a full Executive meeting to allow her plans, discussed with DUP and Ulster Unionist Ministers a fortnight ago.

There is no sign of any thaw, however, which would allow the next Executive meeting, due on Thursday, October 16, to take place. By then it will not have met for four months.

As the political deep freeze cancelled today’s North South Ministerial Council meeting, Ms Ritchie said she circulated a draft paper to Executive colleagues two and a half weeks ago, had some meetings with individual ministers but was really hoping an overall Executive position could be agreed.

“In light of the Executive not meeting, I am forced now to bring forward my fuel poverty recommendations under Urgent Procedure. The package of proposals I have brought forward has implications for several Ministers and Departments — particularly OFMDFM, Department of Finance and Personnel, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

“We need to approach the Treasury as an Executive and we need to press the energy companies for a contribution — as an Executive. To make a difference this winter, the actual work needs to start now.

“My Department needs to get agreement on the breadth of the scheme and start to put the logistics in place. I am not going to get involved in assigning blame for the Executive deadlock, it simply needs to meet.”

Her decision came as the DUP signalled the failure to hold yesterday’s Executive session could have legal implications. Mr Robinson has privately warned that he has received legal advice arguing Mr McGuinness is in breach of his Ministerial duties.

Sinn Fein argued the British and Irish governments are in default of committments under the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews review because of DUP intransigence.

Belfast Telegraph


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