SF rejects DUP's Assembly demands

23/09/2004 - 09:24:34

Democratic Unionist Party attempts to constrain power-sharing ministers will only result in key decisions in Northern Ireland becoming more partisan, it was claimed today.

As the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair considered their next move after talks on power-sharing in Northern Ireland stalled, Sinn Féin defended the decision of former Stormont Health Minister, Bairbre de Brun, to close a south Belfast maternity hospital during the last period of devolution.

The DUP has cited Ms de Brun’s decision, which was opposed by the Assembly’s Health Committee and a majority of MLAs, as a reason why it wants a mechanism to overturn unpopular ministerial decisions in a future executive.

However, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd insisted the decision in January 2000 to close the Jubilee Maternity Hospital and locate a new maternity hospital in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Ms de Brun’s west Belfast constituency was based on sound medical evidence.

The Upper Bann MLA said: “Bairbre de Brun took the decision based on clinical evidence and the needs of mothers and babies.

“The decision to place the new maternity hospital on the Royal Victoria site was the right decision that was supported by the majority of health professionals and organisations.

“Bairbre also took the decision to site the new regional cancer centre on the City Hospital site – is anyone now saying that that this was the wrong decision?”

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman claimed political opposition to her decision was born either out of party politics or constituency politics.

Two days of talks aimed at restoring devolution derailed last night as nationalists rejected DUP and Alliance Party demands for more ministerial accountability in a future power-sharing executive.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin resisted proposals which would have seen ministers in a power-sharing executive being able to challenge cabinet colleagues’ decisions.

They also rejected suggestions Assembly members should have the means to overturn unpopular ministerial decisions, exercise more control over the Executive’s dealings with the Irish Government and change the system for voting First and Deputy First Ministers.

The failure to reach a deal on future power-sharing has also meant the breakthrough secured on IRA disarmament and future paramilitary activity at last week’s Leeds Castle talks in Kent remains on hold.

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