Election diary: Health chief unhappy at medics' DUP-SF criticism

Stormont's most senior health official has highlighted two doctors' tweets criticising the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Monday, 27th February 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 8:54 am
Richard Pengelly

Richard Pengelly, who is the husband of DUP candidate Emma Little-Pengelly, took exception to the tweets and raised it at a senior level within the health service.

The News Letter has obtained a leaked copy of an email which Mr Pengelly sent to the chief executives of Northern Ireland’s health trusts in recent days.

In it, the Department of Health’s permanent secretary said that he was “becoming concerned at the growing number of overtly political tweets from colleagues across the service”.

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He said that “whilst clinically independent, front line colleagues must remember that they are employees of the service, and thus such public statements are not appropriate”.

He then cited two tweets from doctors containing criticism of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

One of the tweets cited said that if people spoilt their ballots next week then the DUP and Sinn Fein would “get to feck it all up again”.

The News Letter asked the Department of Health whether it was appropriate for the permanent secretary fo intervene in this way, given that they were personal accounts.

The department replied: “HSC staff have the right to express their own personal opinions on social media.

“However, this should be in line with the HSC Code of Conduct, applicable to all HSC employees, which sets out the core standards of conduct expected of HSC staff and which complements individual organisation’s policies and procedures.”

Pre-poll rumblings within UUP

The election has not yet happened but already Ulster Unionist knives are being sharpened for the leader should the result be disappointing.

Mike Nesbitt is just a month away from the fifth anniversary of his crushing (80% to 20%) defeat of John McCallister for the leadership.

He has steadied and disciplined the party, bringing it two MPs (one via a DUP pact). But the unease of many UUP members about what Mr Nesbitt really believes erupted publicly after his comment that he will vote for the SDLP ahead of other unionists.

On Saturday night veteran Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers wrote on Facebook: “We should be worried about our own party. Feedback from the electorate in many areas is not good. In the last 72 hours I have been at a number of events and the message is loud and clear. ‘We will be voting DUP because if we don’t SF will have the most seats’.”

He added: “Next Friday and Saturday will be vitally important days for the UUP. If the results go against us there will almost certainly be serious repercussions.

Another party veteran, Chris McGimpsey, agreed, saying that if they failed to eat into the DUP lead “there will need to be serious changes”.