Coronavirus: SF’s Declan Kearney blasted for ‘bonkers’ article on ‘capitalist greed’ during crisis

An analysis piece written by Sinn Fein’s national chairman in which he slams some unionists for prioritising capitalist greed over human health has been savaged by politicians of various stripes, with one describing the article as “bonkers”.

Declan Kearney castigated ‘right-wing elements in the British Cabinet, and also some unionists’
Declan Kearney castigated ‘right-wing elements in the British Cabinet, and also some unionists’

In what might be the starkest example yet of the divisions at the heart of the Executive over coronavirus, South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney penned a lengthy and sharply worded piece for the Sinn Fein publication An Phoblacht, attacking Britain for its handling of the pandemic – stressing an “all-island strategy” is needed.

It follows public disagreements between DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein’s NI leader Michelle O’Neill over matters ranging from which businesses should continue to trade to the possibility of reopening graveyards in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Fein taking a more hardline approach to keeping society locked down.

Amid the political antagonism, it was announced yesterday that the number of recorded deaths of people with coronavirus has jumped to 250 in Northern Ireland.

It comes after disarray among the authorities over the number of deaths in the preceding 24 hours, with a government webpage giving an official running total vanishing from the internet on Tuesday night. At time of writing it is still not online again.

Amid this confused picture, on Tuesday evening it was believed that the number of deaths stood at 216.

Mr Kearney’s article appeared on Tuesday and is titled ‘Exiting the Covid-19 lockdown: Economic interests must not take primacy over Public Health’.

Sinn Fein national chairman Mr Kearney (who is also a junior minister in the Executive Office, something he omits to mention in his Facebook and Twitter biographies) wrote that what is needed is “strong, united leadership” and “primacy of public health” above any “political agendas”.

He then went on to add that there is “an argument which is being encouraged by some right-wing elements in the British Cabinet, and also by some Unionists in the north of Ireland, that the lockdown measures should be relaxed, and that economic activity and productivity should be resumed”.

This, said Mr Kearney, “is the typical capitalist reflex which puts the market economy first. Corporate greed over public welfare. The elevation of neo-liberal values and priorities above what’s actually needed at this time”.

Former Stormont minister and current UUP peer Reg Empey said: “That’s bonkers.

“The fact of the matter is the actions of the government in London has been for state intervention on an unparalleled scale.

“The state is now paying 80% of furloughed workers’ wages. Guaranteeing billions and billions in loans.

“That’s not the reaction of a right-wing, ideologically driven government.

“Because we want to see our economy survive, it’s a question of balance, it’s not a question of ideology.

“And I feel that statement from Mr Kearney is not the language that should be coming from somebody who’s working in the office of the First and Deputy First Minister.”

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist party leader Steve Aiken said: “Sinn Fein need to decide if their role is to undermine public confidence and their Executive colleagues during the biggest public health emergency we have faced for generations, or is it to help save lives?

“As the Health Minister Robin Swann has spelt out: at the end of this the only thing dividing us will be those who are still alive and those who are dead.”

Jim Wells, South Down DUP MLA and former health minister during the Ebola outbreak, said: “I have looked at Robin Swann’s policies since this came in. I ask myself: I’ve been in that chair. I’ve been in that seat. Would I have done anything different?

“I have to be honest and say: No, I wouldn’t.”

Of Mr Kearney’s remarks, he said: “They are politically driven, and they are nothing to do with the public health of the people of this Province.”

The SDLP’s economy spokeswoman Sinead McLaughlin MLA said of Mr Kearney’s comments: “I don’t think it’s valuable to talk in those terms, particularly for a member of the Executive. This is a coalition government and we need to be seen by the public as representatives that are working in collegiality.”

Alliance South Antrim MLA John Blair said: “We’re seeing increased instances of political point-scoring, particularly over the last few days. There are clearly differences of opinion on the scope and speed of relaxing the lockdown. That’s to be expected in a five-party Executive. But it’s important to be respectful of each other.

“We don’t know yet whether it’s safe to relax the restrictions at present. We’re seeing a piecemeal and fragmented crumbling of those restrictions at present.

“Alliance is not interested in attacking other parties on this. The people of Northern Ireland want politicians to come together.”

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Alistair Bushe