SDLP: Mark H Durkan says wide ranging financial pressures are facing Stormont

Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan.
Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan.

Summertime is usually, with the exception of parade disputes, a quiet time here politically.

Many of our MLAs and Ministers take some time to convalesce, to spend more time in their own constituencies and to prepare mentally and politically for the coming term.

SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H. Durkan.

SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H. Durkan.

This Summer has been different but the feeling of despair is depressingly familiar. Everyone in their right mind welcomed the peaceful passage of the parading season, however our air waves were still filled with drum banging, catcalling and disputes between parties over which route we should go down.

The unprecedented and undeniable financial pressures facing the Executive have pushed the main parties even further apart at a time when the ever increasingly exasperated public want and need to see politicians marching to the same tune to ensure best possible outcomes.

Instead, we have witnessed brinkmanship of a scale that has led some seasoned pundits to predict the collapse of the Executive.

The DUP remain obstinate in their agenda to drive through the odious Welfare Reform Bill and the SDLP remain committed to ensuring that the most draconian elements of this Bill, a thinly veiled attack on vulnerable people, are removed.

Sinn Fein have hardened in their opposition to Welfare Reform to save face after the Deputy First Minister’s badly kept secret agreement to introduce it.

Opposition to these Tory cuts is, however being used by the DUP as opposition as a scapegoat for wider financial pressures.

They have been joined to some extent by the UUP and shamefully by the Alliance Party with Ministers tripping over each other to panic the public with doomsday scenarios like abolition of free travel for senior citizens and the well- publicised threat to the expansion of Magee.

The current financial crisis facing the Department of Health is in no way attributable to the refusal to implement Welfare Reform and any attempt to portray it as such is certainly irresponsible and even immoral, pitting healthcare against Welfare.

What no Party has mentioned is that this scenario was anticipated by the SDLP over threewidfe years ago and was a key reason in our refusal to vote for the budget that we felt made it inevitable.

At that time we were criticised by all the other parties who voted for the budget then and want to revisit it now. Clearly, a four year budget process does not possess the necessary flexibility or accountability to allow government to work and ensure that it is working.

People want to see politics work here. The people have voted for politics to work. Clearly we need to ensure that our public services and vulnerable people are protected – but we need to ensure that all public money is being well managed and spent efficiently.