SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MP has said that comments from Sinn Féin’s Joint First Minister Michelle O’Neill calling for action on tackling waiting lists the same way as the Executive tackled the Covid-19 crisis will not inspire confidence from the public.
The SDLP Leader said that the Covid-19 response has exposed deep divisions in the Executive and that political leaders should not be rushing to claim credit for the successes of dedicated frontline health service staff who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to keep people safe.
Mr Eastwood challenged Michelle O’Neill to commit her party and her Finance Minister Conor Murphy to providing funding to address waiting lists after a budget which is low on aspiration.
Colum Eastwood MP said:
“It is incredible that Michelle O’Neill is rushing to newspapers to claim credit for the ‘rigorous’ handling of the Covid-19 crisis in the name of the Executive and to suggest that waiting lists could benefit from the same approach. The truth is that the crisis response has been characterised by mismanagement and miscommunication from the very beginning. At one point, the First Ministers abandoned joint press conferences for weeks over a political row. If we’re serious about tackling Northern Ireland’s most critical domestic crisis and reducing waiting lists then we need a completely different approach.
“As a former Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill should know that what our health service, and our frontline staff, need is decisive political leadership to take forward the transformation plan and resourcing to address the worst waiting lists on these islands. The last thing we should be doing is replicating the panic, politicking and indecision of the last 14 months.
“The only people who deserve credit for the pandemic response are the frontline health service staff who have worked themselves to the point of exhaustion, in more difficult circumstances than most could imagine, to keep people safe.
“After 14 years of running the Executive, I welcome the commitment to addressing waiting lists. But if this is a priority then people will legitimately ask why Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy didn’t prioritise it in his budget this week. Rhetoric for newspaper pieces won’t help the hundreds of thousands of people waiting for tests or treatment. I am calling on Michelle O’Neill to take responsibility and commit that her Finance Minister will provide the resource necessary to tackle waiting lists and fund the health service transformation plan.”