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Ford says cutting Department for Employment and Learning could damage economy

January 11, 2012 4:44 PM

AGRICULTURE & RURAL DEVELOPMENT: David Ford MLA (South Antrim)Following yesterday's talks, Alliance Leader David Ford has branded attempts to get rid of the Department for Employment and Learning as a deeply irresponsible DUP-Sinn Féin power grab. He said that what Northern Ireland needs from government reform is a single, strong economy department not a carve-up to satisfy the DUP and Sinn Féin which could damage our economy.

David Ford said: "This is the DUP and Sinn Féin putting politics before the economy. Rather than a carve-up to satisfy the two parties, what we need from government reform is a single, strong economy department - a point made in the independent review of the economy three years ago, in the Alliance manifesto last year, and reinforced by business organisations today.

"Stephen Farry, as Minister for Employment and Learning, is implementing bold and innovative plans to help deliver the skills and strategy needed to put Northern Ireland on a sound footing and help grow our economy. To carve up this department in a hasty manner would derail this vital work and could damage our economy. Stephen has done excellent work resolving the tuition fees issue and on teacher training, and it looks like he is being punished for his success. But the bigger issue at stake is that carving up the Department for Employment and Learning in the way that is being proposed will damage our economy at a time when a thorough and specific focus on training, skills and employment is absolutely crucial.

"Yesterday's talks mixed up three entirely separate issues - arrangements regarding justice, reducing the number of government departments, and addressing an anomaly as regards the number of Executive seats held by each party. If we're going to reduce the number of departments, it should be a realistic, properly-thought out reduction to eight departments.

"In last year's election, the public voted for Alliance to have a seat in the Executive. To remove Alliance from the Executive in this way would be grossly anti-democratic and would remove the rights of Alliance voters to be represented in the Executive. We have never claimed any entitlement to the Justice Ministry but the electorate have given us an entitlement to a seat at the Executive table under D'Hondt, which the DUP and Sinn Féin are currently trying to remove.

"These negotiations have only lasted half a day and hasty decisions invariably produce bad government. If we are going to address the issue of how to appoint a Justice Minister, we should do it in a way that's best for community confidence. We will be consulting with our party in the coming days. We will be examining what's best for Northern Ireland and if we find the proposals unacceptable we will have to consider every option open to us."

ENDS

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