Unionist row deepens over 'tap tax' remark

WATER charges continued to cause division among unionist politicians yesterday, as public sector workers took to the streets in protest against the cuts proposed in the executive's draft budget.

Ulster Unionist councillor Ronnie Crawford sparked further controversy when he openly criticised his party's deputy leader, John McCallister, who on Thursday had said a 100 tap tax shoulf be introduced.

Commenting on his Facebook website, Mr Crawford asked whether Mr McCallister should be "sacked or hanged " for his comments.

The DUP's Peter Weir seized upon the internal rebuke, claiming the UUP had "embraced Tory politics at its worst".

"They are targeting struggling householders who are trying to keep up mortgage payments, meet the expectations of their children at Christmas and also hold on to their jobs," said Mr Weir.

A spokesman for the UUP said the party had already clarified their position, supporting the budget plan not to introduce water charges.

"This is to be welcomed as families and communities are struggling through this difficult period. However, it does not make the issue magically disappear.

"What we are calling for is a mature debate based on the facts so that the public know what options are available.

"Peter Weir and the DUP are delving into the lowest form of politics. Playing on people's fears in such a populist manner is nothing short of a disgrace."

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's largest public service trade union - NIPSA - say they are encouraged by the public response to a new leafleting campaign.

"People are acutely aware that the UK coalition government's austerity programme is generating increased resisitance throughout the UK and that the rolling out of that programme by the NI executive will be disastrous for the whole community in Northern Ireland," said Brian Campfield, NIPSA general secretary.

"People also know it will impact upon wide sections of our community, in particular low and middle-income families."

Health workers also turned out in force at hospitals in Belfast, Londonderry, Lisburn, Downpatrick and Enniskillen for UNISON demonstrations against the draft budget.

On Thursday, John Compton from the Health and Social Care Board warned that up to 4,000 jobs could be lost.

UNISON'S regional secretary Patricia McKeown said yesterday's demonstrations were "only the start".

"We have eight short weeks to move to protect services in health and social care.

"Last year, several vulnerable pensioners were left alone and without a meal on Christmas Day as a result of the current cutbacks.

"UNISON has challenged every MLA and executive minister to guarantee that this year and in the future they will be protected."