Programme For Government Debated

An MLA has criticised those behind a debate in the Assembly today on delays to the long-awaited Programme for Government.

The Strangford DUP MLA Simon Hamilton accused both the SDLP and Ulster Unionists of being motivated by selfish party interests and criticised their past record in relation to both the existing Budget and previous Programmes for Government (PfG).

He was speaking after the Foyle SDLP MLA, Colum Eastwood, said that he believes the Executive's delay in producing a Programme for Government had allowed a gap to be created between political promises and firm governmental commitments.

Mr Eastwood was speaking at the Assembly during the SDLP motion calling for the speedy introduction of a Programme for Government.

He said that the PfG has not been forthcoming a full six months after Stormont passed its budget.

He said: "PfG is a vital component in the process of clearly articulating spending and legislative priorities of a sitting administration, providing certainty and hope to the economy and people alike.

"Even at this late stage there is still time for the Executive to draft a Programme for Government which would instil creativity into the manner in which we provide public services, and breathe life and growth into our small and medium size businesses," he urged.

He was speaking after the Ulster Unionist Party yesterday launched its proposals for a Programme for Government.

Commenting Mr Hamilton said: "There is a huge irony in complaints coming forward from the SDLP, with support from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) regarding the publication of Programme for Government.

"No one would ever disagree with the basic principle that a Programme for Government would help guide the overall strategic direction of the Executive during this Assembly term.

"It is indeed for those reasons that Ministers within the Executive are working towards ensuring that a PfG is agreed and published.

"All of the anger and arguments presented by the Ulster Unionists and SDLP in relation to the Programme for Government are not motivated by the needs of the public, but about selfish interests and a wish to point score against other parties within the Executive," he claimed.

The UUP Party Leader Tom Elliott said: "The Ulster Unionist Party entered the Assembly election with a pledge that we would get all the major political parties around the table in the days after the final result being declared.

"Although this was the case with two days of cross party talks occurring, many issues which were discussed have not been revisited since and we are still waiting for [the First Minister's Office] to bring forward a PfG for consultation.

"Therefore, the Ulster Unionist Party has taken the responsible step of drawing up a number of proposals which we believe could have a beneficial impact in Northern Ireland over the next four or five years.

"We hope that our proposals will contribute positively to the 2011-15 PfG and we are willing to engage with other parties and to debate the points and issues we have raise," he said.

However, Simon Hamilton for the DUP hit back today: "There were wild predictions from members of the Ulster Unionist Party that even a one year budget could never be agreed with the DUP and Sinn Fein as the largest parties within the Executive.

"Within a few days of those claims of course a four year budget was actually brought forward.

"Having raised fears about what impact a lack of agreement on a budget could have, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP then proceeded to vote against that budget.

"Had their stance been more widely followed then Government in Northern Ireland simply could not have continued to function.

"Whilst their parties' Ministers will be involved in bringing forward a PfG and may well support it in the Executive it would be absolutely no surprise to find these two parties then voting against the document when it comes before the Assembly. Such has been the duplicity in recent years," he claimed.

He added: "The past history of the UUP and SDLP may also explain why they are keen to see a Programme for Government produced quickly, regardless of its content.

"When those two parties were leading within the Executive such a document could be cobbled together because it carried no weight and even their own Ministers freely ignored its contents.

"That programme should be a focused, appropriate and deliverable set of priorities which can be used to tackle the very real challenges faced by the people of Northern Ireland.

"We can only be left to wonder how much more efficient the process of bringing forward that document would be were all the parties to participate fully and positively within the Executive rather than engage in cheap stunts," he said.


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