31 January 2008 Edition
SDLP out of touch as North's Programme for Government announced
SINN FÉIN Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Ian Paisley jointly announced a three-year Programme for Government and a multi-billion pound Investment Strategy to the Six Counties Assembly on Monday.
MLAs endorsed the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy which set out the Executive’s priorities and goals for the next year three years.
“At long last,” Martin McGuinness said, “local ministers are making decisions on behalf of local people. The programme we have laid before the Assembly today has been debated, agreed and endorsed by local ministers. This Executive is determined to make a difference. The public can be assured that we will drive these plans forward and deliver the goals outlined in this programme.”
Monday’s publication follows a period of consultation on the Draft Programme for Government, published in October of last year. During the consultation period, over 9,500 people formally responded. This is among the highest response rate of any consultation undertaken in the North of Ireland.
To coincide with the publication of the Programme for Government, the ministers also announced an investment strategy amounting to almost £20 billion of investment in the next 10 years, of which almost £6 billion is earmarked for the first three years.
Martin McGuinness said:
“The Investment Strategy underpins the ambitious goals we have set out in the Programme for Government. We are determined to put right the previous years of under-investment and to lay the foundations of our future prosperity.”
The strategy includes allocations of £1.8 billion to Social Development to proceed with the delivery of 10,000 social and affordable houses over the next five years and an additional £140 million to underpin the hospitals modernisation programme.
McGuinness concluded by saying that, by working together, the Executive can begin to build “a peaceful, fair and prosperous society for everyone”.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA, commenting on the SDLP’s decision to vote against the Programme for Government of the very same power-sharing Executive of which it is a member, said that the party has been “unable to come to terms” with the new political realities. He said:
“The decision by the SDLP to vote against the Programme for Government is evidence of a party that is totally and absolutely confused. The reality is that the SDLP believed that these institutions would not be re-established. Their entire political position was predicated on the belief that the DUP and Sinn Féin were the problem parties.
“Since the institutions were re-established, the SDLP leadership has been unable to come to terms with this new reality and the new political dispensation.
“Yesterday’s SDLP decision was ad-hoc and on a whim of the party leader in the course of the Programme for Government debate. It was not a considered position. Last week, the SDLP voted for the Programme for Government and the Budget in the Executive. This week they vote against it without offering any rationale or credible reason for doing so.”
Speaking ahead of the Assembly Budget debate, Sinn Féin MLA Jennifer McCann questioned to the Minister for Social Development about what steps she will be taking to ensure that the additional resources allocated to her department will include resolving the funding problems concerning vital community youth services in West Belfast and the Shankill.
Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson and West Belfast MLA Fra McCann said that now the Budget, along with substantial increases in the housing budget, has been agreed there is a need to take action to tackle the North’s housing crisis.
The programme sets out a number of ambitious targets including:-
• Increasing the employment rate from 70 per cent to 75 per cent by 2020;
• Creating a minimum of 6,500 jobs, 85 per cent of which will be above the private sector median wage;
• Ensuring that 68 per cent of school leavers achieve at least five GCSEs at grade C or above;
• Reducing the number of children killed on our roads by 50 per cent by 2012;
• Providing free public transport to everyone aged 60 or above;
• Investing over £500 million in regenerating disadvantaged communities by 2012;
• Ensuring that, by 2009, no one will wait longer than nine weeks for an out-patient appointment, nine weeks for a diagnostic test, and 17 weeks for treatment;
• Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025.