The North’s Executive has been accused of seeking to avoid a decision over highly controversial government funding of the unionist paramilitary UDA.
The North’s Social Development Minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, gave the UDA sixty days to decommission their weapons, otherwise their official grant aid will be stopped.
Ritchie threatened to cut off the 1.2m pound sterling fund in response to recent UDA violence, including gun attacks on PSNI police in Carrickfergus and Bangor.
Sinn Féin’ Ales Maskey pointed out that two months ago Ritchie she was going to stop the funding but now she had given the UDA another two months.
“This is not the decisive leadership that is required. It is public posturing.”
He said it was a fundamental mistake to link money for deprived unionist communities to the behaviour of the UDA.
“Where there is poverty, social exclusion and weak community infrastructure, government obviously has a responsibility to act.
“Sinn Féin supports money going to deprived areas. However, funding must be based on objective need and be properly accounted for.
“Money for such areas is one thing but money for the UDA is another.”
26 County Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern backed Ms Ritchie but said the attacks in Carrickfergus and Bangor were unacceptable.
“As a result, the UDA and [their political representatives] must act quickly and decisively in restoring community and government confidence in the conflict transformation process,” he said.
British government funding for loyalist communities will be withdrawn if the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) does not decommission weapons in 60 days.
Ritchie said she was not prepared to continue supporting a conflict transformation project without “reduced criminality”.
She said: “I abhor paramilitarism of whatever hue. It, and the violence, intimidation and criminality which it almost invariably spawns, have no place in a peaceful modern society.”
Two PSNI members have been injured in violence as rival UDA gangs have clashed in recent weeks. Speaking afterwards, PSNI Chief Hugh Orde said: “If you want my personal opinion, I wouldn’t give them 50 pence.”
Meanwhile, with yesterday marking 100 days since the Northern Executive was finally restored on May 8th, a unionist hardliner has attacked the power-sharing cabinet which he said was “most notable for what it hasn’t brought us, rather than what it has done”.
Jim Allister, who resigned from the DUP earlier this year, said the Executive had failed in winning a proper financial package from the British government and in safeguarding academic education selection.
The MEP said the IRA Army Council was still in existence, while Sinn Féin was “cherrypicking” on policing.
“On the score sheet of what the DUP promised Sinn Féin would have to do and what Sinn Féin has actually done, it has been a clear win for recalcitrant republicanism,” said Mr Allister.
However, former colleague Jeffrey Donaldson rounded on Mr Allister, accusing him of “defeatism” and being unable to “recognise a victory when he sees it”.
“We are building a much stronger economy here which will ensure Northern Ireland can no longer be regarded as a failed political entity. This can only strengthen our position within the United Kingdom.”
The Sinn Féin Assembly group leader John O’Dowd said the first 100 days of devolution demonstrated the importance of having decision-making in the hands of locally-elected politicians.
This was illustrated in the way the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England and flash flooding was handled by local Ministers.
“No one expected that we would get to day one, let alone see the first 100 days arrive so quickly. But now we face greater tests.
“There are still many, many big decisions ahead of us, but there is now a new sense of political stability. In the coming weeks we will begin in earnest to set out our own priorities as we set about the task of developing our first programme for government and budget.”