The stability of Northern Ireland is threatened by “a Sinn Féin with Gerry Adams back at the wheel”, UUP Chairman Lord Empey has said.
Lord Empey hit out at both the “political opportunism” of Sinn Féin and the “gross incompetence and arrogance” of the DUP as he reflected on today’s events at Stormont.
The UUP Chairman also lamented the way Stormont has been “dragged through the gutter” as he expressed hope it could be “made to work in the interests of the people”.
In a statement, Lord Empey said: “It was a sad day to see the Institutions, created after many years of hard negotiations, being collapsed by a combination of political opportunism by Sinn Fein and gross incompetence and arrogance by the DUP.’
“The general public look on horrified, that at a time when GPs are threatening to quit the NHS, hospital waiting lists have never been higher and there is not even a budget in place for 2017/18, the Executive parties see fit to put the community through a winter election which will cost at least £5 million, on top of the colossal losses being racked up daily by the RHI debacle even after measures proposed today.
“As one of those who fought hard to see devolution re-instated in Northern Ireland, I am disgusted by the way in which the interests of the community have been swept aside in such a cavalier manner by the Executive parties.
“Having been to the polls only 8 months ago in the wake of the so called ‘Fresh Start’ agreement, people are asking the question ‘can Stormont ever be made to work in our best interests or are we doomed to go back to Direct Rule from Westminster?’
“I fear that support for Stormont has never been lower; it has been dragged through the gutter with one scandal after another and with widespread abuse of the financial privileges that the Executive has at its disposal. The decision of Ministers to pay huge and unjustifiable salaries of up to £92,000 to so called Special Advisers has been a most flagrant abuse; in many cases senior advisers in Whitehall don’t get that sort of money. In the real world some of the holders of these offices would be lucky to get a third of that in the private sector.
“But of course Stormont can be made to work in the interests of the people, but not by the present combination of parties.
“For a decade, DUP and Sinn Fein have had uninterrupted opportunity to lead Northern Ireland to a better place; they have had the votes in the Assembly to enable them to deliver their own policies, and since last May they have had no other party in the Executive to inhibit their progress. In other words, they have had every opportunity to deliver for the people, and as we see today, they have failed miserably.
“I am convinced that if the people vote in the same way as they did in May 2016 the outcome will be the same; deadlock and petty wrangling. This is no way to treat the sick, the poor and the elderly. I believe that a change at the top at Stormont is essential to preserve the Institutions and the settlement that underpins it. Constitutional stability has been secured by the principle of consent, but is now threatened by a Sinn Fein with Mr Adams back at the wheel which seeks to destabilise Northern Ireland and to provoke a massive renegotiation.
“The DUP have always promoted themselves as the tough negotiators and the strong defenders of unionist interests. If that were correct, why is Stormont in a state of collapse today? The truth is that Mrs Foster has failed to see the dangers in the present crisis; had she demonstrated a little graciousness when the extent of the RHI crisis emerged, not only would she still be First Minister but Sinn Fein would not have been handed a gift with which to press its republican demands in future negotiations.
“The truth is that there is an alternative to the DUP/Sinn Fein carve up. There will be sufficient Ulster Unionist candidates standing in the forthcoming election to ensure that we can become the largest party and offer a real and strategic alternative to the deadlock and nastiness of recent years. We will work to build a real and meaningful partnership with those of a different tradition, based on respect and a determination to really solve our severe problems in the Health Service and the economy. The current trench warfare of the DUP/Sinn Fein Executive must be made a thing of the past. We should be encouraging our young people and not driving them away. In short we need the help of the electorate to bring about major change.
“I would remind people that the talking heads, pollsters and so called experts have got all major political predictions wrong over the past year, from Mr Trump, Brexit and the recent Italian referendum. I am convinced that the time has come for the electorate to ‘make the switch’ and give a real chance of revitalising politics in Northern Ireland.”