Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has accused the DUP of exploiting Covid-19 as an ‘orange versus green’ issue in a week she described as ‘shameful and depressing’.
The DUP twice exercised their veto at Stormont against a deal that would have seen the current Covid-19 ‘circuit-breaker’ extended by three weeks.
A deal was finally reached on Thursday, just 24 hours before the measures were due to expire, to extend them by just one week, with some restrictions being progressively lifted after that. It was supported only by unionists.
The outcome is contrary to the recommendations of the North’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Michael McBride, who has warned that lives will be lost as a result. Cases of the virus across the north of Ireland are increasing again even as the south of Ireland has seen infections decline.
DUP Minister Edwin Poots last month claimed the Coronavirus is more concentrated within the nationalist community, leading some unionists to argue that the Covid restrictions disadvantage their community.
The DUP’s use of the unionist veto appears to be a nail in the coffin for the talks agreement reached in January. The ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal called for the use of the veto to be limited to “the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort, having used every other available mechanism”.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said it was “shameful and embarrassing” to witness the tactics being played out in the Stormont Executive.
Ms Long said any politician with an ounce of “sense or sanity” must have reconsidered their participation in the Executive.
She said the cross-community veto was designed to protect minorities, but instead it resulted in the largest party in the Six Counties voting against public health measures.
“The degree of perversion of the original intent of that protection is laid bare for all to see,” she said.
“The pandemic does not affect one community more than another. I just cannot understand why there was any need to deploy that veto this week. It was completely inappropriate.”
Ms McDonald said the DUP’s use of a cross-community veto “was shameful, was disgraceful, was depressing”.
“The idea that the DUP can turn public health and the need to keep all of us safe and to do the right thing for everyone in very difficult circumstances, that they can turn that into an orange versus green, them versus us issue, is really very shocking.
“I think it gives a glimpse into how profoundly challenging it is to deal with that system.
“We can’t have a reservoir of this disease anywhere on this island; if it’s on the island it imperils all of us.”