12 May 2006

Row over SDLP 'joining debates'

BBC

The SDLP has been accused of sending out mixed messages on its attitude to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which reconvenes next week.

The party indicated on Thursday it would initially take part in debates, despite reservations about the assembly meeting ahead of devolution.

Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy claimed the SDLP would be taking part in a "sham".

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said they were using the opportunity to "test" the government.

"We have an opportunity here to politically test the secretary of state - to put him on his mettle and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

The assembly is due to debate economic matters on Tuesday.

Debates

Mr Murphy said that his party would only be at the assembly "for the business of establishing a power-sharing government".

"Anything else is a waste of time and an attempt by powerless politicians to justify their salaries and allowances," he said.

On Thursday SDLP leader Mark Durkan said his party would base its participation in debates on how ministers responded to the assembly.

However, he added that it was not the "assembly envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement."

The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that his party would not be participating in the discussion of issues such as education reform water charges, health and rates increases because "that would be pointless".

Northern Ireland's 108 assembly members will gather on Monday for the first time since they were elected in November 2003.

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