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23 October 2008 Edition

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Has Ritchie lost the run of herself?

Mary Nelis

Mary Nelis

HAS Margaret Ritchie, the Stormont Minister for Social Development, lost the run of herself? She was interviewed on BBC Radio Foyle on her decision to axe funding from the ‘Good Morning Galliagh’ community group, located in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the City.  
Good Morning Galliagh has provided a daily lifeline to the elderly for the past 17 years so it was difficult to understand why the minister should involve Catríona Ruane in her attempts to explain her decision to axe funding from the group.
It is even more confusing for such worthwhile community organisations to discover that the Department for Social Development was still funding a UDA-linked organisation that the minister had pledged to axe a year previously.
In a blaze of publicity last year, Ritchie pledged to stop the £1.2 million to the UDA project after the UDA failed to obey her command to decommission its considerable arsenal of weapons.
There was trenchant criticism by all ministers in the Stormont Executive that any public monies should be given to an organisation still armed and with a track record of the sectarian murder of Catholics.
The initial decision to fund the UDA-linked group had been made by Peter Hain, the former Secretary of State, prior to devolution.
At the time of the announcement by Ritchie, other ministers in the Stormont Executive expressed concern that her ‘go it alone’ decision could leave the department open to a legal challenge, which is now  scheduled for the courts in November.
When the issue of a possible legal challenge was pointed out to the minister at the time, she claimed that Sinn Féin and the DUP had ganged up to out-vote her, although it was subsequently revealed that no such vote had ever been taken. In an effort to dig herself out of the self-made hole, she accused her ministerial colleagues in Sinn Féin and the DUP of altering the minutes of an Executive meeting, an allegation that caused much consternation within the Executive and concerns that the SDLP minister had, in the words of Martin McGuinness, “lost the run of herself”.
Some weeks ago, during a debate on a motion proposed by Alex Maskey on environmental improvements in the Markets area of Belfast, Ritchie responded by stating:
“When I see the proposer of this motion, Mr Maskey, in the context of the Markets, I think of only one thing: the events surrounding the cruel murder of Robert McCartney. When Maskey walks into my office next month, all I will see is the image of Robert McCartney holding his two young sons.”
Clearly the minister had again lost the run of herself and was rebuked by the Speaker, Willie Hay, who described her remarks as “not meeting the standards of good temper and moderation”.
The South Belfast SDLP MP, Alasdair McDonnell, in an effort to divert attention from the ill-tempered comments of the loose-mouthed Ritchie, voted with the unionists to defeat the motion.
Meanwhile, the 83 per cent of Catholics on the waiting list in north Belfast or the people in the Markets seeking environmental improvements or the community workers in Galliagh seeking funding must wonder if Margaret Ritchie is still losing the run of herself. Would someone remind her that Catríona Ruane is the Minister for Education, not Social Development? 

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