DUP agenda dominates Executive, says Ritchie


HOUSING:“SINN FÉIN is still a protest party and that is all it knows,” Minister for Housing and Social Development Margaret Ritchie told the conference.

The DUP was “running the show and running rings round Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin are not able for them,” she added.

The Executive was moving ahead entirely on a DUP agenda, she said.

“Be it policing and justice, the Irish language, the Maze, post-primary education or even extending funding to loyalist paramilitaries, the DUP is making all the running and Sinn Féin is trailing along behind them.”

She accused Sinn Féin of being unable to deal with political details and cited last week’s proceedings in the Assembly and the performance of First Minister Peter Robinson.

Referring to an Executive proposal to ease poverty amid the credit crunch, Ms Ritchie said: “Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds and their cronies spent the entire day in the chamber dealing with this legislation forensically. But the Deputy First Minister was nowhere to be seen.”

Martin McGuinness had no appetite for his own legislation, she said, and his party did not know how to deal with the DUP.

She warned: “That is the message we must get out to the electorate both in June and beyond. We will have to go toe to toe with the DUP and Peter Robinson. If they think they can unravel the promise of the Good Friday agreement and dismantle the North-South structures, they have another think coming.

“This Assembly is not the old Castlereagh Council and Peter Robinson will find that no one in the SDLP will be bending the knee to him,” she added.

She repeated the party’s call for a significant boost to the social housing budget which would meet housing needs and help to kick- start the local economy.

Nothing would contribute more to giving the economy an immediate boost than to accelerate the social housing new-build programme, she said.

This would create what she called a “virtuous circle”, boosting the small firms sector, and meeting a huge social need. “Reconciliation remains the biggest challenge facing our community,” she added.

“The healing process, as John Hume put it, must now get under way. If I, as Minister, can start to turn the tide on the chronic segregation of housing that keeps communities apart, generation after generation, then that will be work of real value.”

Ms Ritchie believed that people would rather live in a mixed setting than in a 100 per cent single-identity community.

“People are entitled to ask for this and we are morally obliged to deliver it,” she said.