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77 days to improve politics in our region

The Assembly and local government elections take place eleven weeks, or 77 days, from today.

Between now and polling day I hope the many thousands of working families who are feeling the pinch of the recession and the impact of government cutbacks will begin to demand better politics from all of us seeking a mandate on May 5th.

The past four years have been marked by carve up and carve out of government. Over the next eleven weeks, I hope we get to debate the need for more than just peace process politics but before that, we need to settle a better budget before March 14th.

On Tuesday in winding on the budget debate I placed the following remarks on the record of the Assembly.

“The SDLP believes that, if this Budget were passed, we would have no plan for rebalancing the economy of our region. We could be looking at up to 9,000 public service job losses, and we would face a pay freeze for the 7,400 civil servants who earn below the average industrial wage that Sinn Féin MLAs take. The SDLP also believes that thousands more people would face benefit cuts by 2012 and that there would be the potential for hospital closures. We know that. At the same time, the prospect of new medicines and new medical facilities, such as the cancer centre in Altnagelvin, would not be available for patients, and there would be no robust strategy for job creation. There would also be less independent scrutiny of government, because of what this Budget would do to the Assembly, the Audit Office and the other key scrutiny bodies. There would be a massive drop in building, particularly social housing building, with consequential job losses. Over 100 schools would go without the repairs that they so desperately need, and there would be the potential to introduce student fees of £5,750. Such student fees would say to working families that they could not afford to send their children to be educated, they could not afford what a previous generation was able to afford, and they could not afford to become fully signed-up members of society, because we are going to stop them doing that.

For all those reasons, I ask Sinn Féin to adopt the long-standing SDLP motto that there is a better way. If the DUP is serious about living up to its motto of keeping Northern Ireland moving forward, I ask it to seriously revisit this Budget and to return to the House before the end of the process with something that is built on the twin pillars of social justice and economic development. What they bring should mean that we can all face the people, proud of what this place can deliver and of what devolution can mean. It should also mean that we can look the most marginalised in our society in the eye and say that, above all, this Assembly stands up for them.”

Budget could put another 9000 on dole – NI needs a better way

The forthcoming election must be about making Northern Ireland work.

The budget that Sinn Fein and the DUP are proposing will put the North on the dole. Over 9000 public service jobs will go with many more lost in the private sector. Over 100 school builds will not proceed and hospital waiting lists will get longer if we don’t start taking devolved government seriously and start making decisions that benefit the many rather then the few.

7400 low paid civil servants who get paid less then the average industrial wage will have their pay frozen and tens of thousands of students could face fees of up to £5750.

We had seventy years of bad government in this region. It gave us political policing and gerrymandering. The last thing we need now is slush fund politics and more cronyism.

The next Assembly needs more balance. A stronger SDLP team will bring solutions to water and education and a new politics to Stormont.

We want to create a people’s water company to make the necessary investments in out water and sewage infrastructure. A mutual company which puts customers first.

In government we will work hard to break the stalemate in education. We won’t let outdated ideology get in the way of what is best for our children. Guided by international best practice we have made proposals which will ensure no child ever has to sit a transfer test and eleven whilst also guaranteeing that educational excellence remains at the heart of all our schools.

Through practical cooperation across Ireland we can save millions for both jurisdictions. Money that can be invested in schools, hospitals and our transport infrastructure. That’s why we want a better budget for the North. One which includes new revenue from local sources to plug the gap left by Tory Cuts. A strong SDLP would challenge Sinn Fein and the DUP’s surrender policy to the UK Treasury.

Northern Ireland can remain divided and forever a failure or as a region we can make the positive decision to work together in the common interest.

My nationalism is in no way diluted by a commitment to making the North work, nor should anyone else’s unionism. Those of us who are serious about Irish Unity need to explore honestly what that means. You can’t unite Ireland by continuing to divide the North. That’s why the time has come for a generation of nationalist politicians to step forward and make our region work. I want to be part of that movement.