Sinn Fein is ‘bereft of ideas’ over health crisis: Wilson

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd. 
Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Unionists have slammed Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd after he warned that a restored Stormont Executive would not bring about a “utopian society”.

The Upper Bann MLA was quizzed on the Nolan Show about the absence of an Executive following the announcement that £70m in savings have to be made by Northern Ireland’s five health trusts.

He said: “I am being realistic. No on should expect that even if the Executive is back up and running that we are going to have a utopian society and that all the problems of the health service will be resolved.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said Mr O’Dowd comments displayed an “immature attitude” on the part of Sinn Fein and added: “It once again raises the question as to whether Sinn Fein sees any point in an Executive at all.”

Disagreeing with Mr O’Dowd’s assessment that a functioning government could not help resolve the problems with the health service, Mr Wilson added: “While it is true that an Executive will not be able to magic money out of thin air, it would allow us to look again at our spending priorities and seek to find ways of moving money around.

“For example, the £177m spent on Irish language for 1% of the population could be reallocated to the health service, which benefits 100% of the population.”

The East Antrim representative also said a devolved government could “carry out much-needed reform of the health service, something which Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill bottled out on when she was health minister”.

Accusing Sinn Fein of “political cowardice”, Mr Wilson said: “They have shown they are not prepared to take the hard decisions. They are bereft of ideas of how to tackle these issues and are only concerned with their usual republican agenda.”

UUP MLA Roy Beggs claimed Sinn Fein was “running away” from their political responsibilities.

He added: “Michelle O’Neill ran away from her duties as health minister when it came to carrying forward reforms to the health service, and now they are doing it again.”

In response, a Sinn Fein spokesperson told the News Letter: “Sinn Fein is committed to establishing a sustainable, credible Executive by dealing with the issues that caused its collapse – the denial of equality and rights which are protected everywhere else on these islands.”