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Ex-SDLP leader accuses DUP of bullying UUP out of north-south bodies - The Irish News
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News

Ex-SDLP leader accuses DUP of bullying UUP out of north-south bodies

Margaret Ritchie voiced concerns

A FORMER SDLP leader has described the removal of Ulster Unionist nominees from North-South bodies as "opportunistic and deeply worrying".

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the decision not to reappoint four individuals to cross-border bodies after the UUP left the executive in September had the appearance of "DUP ebullience and bullying".

Ms Ritchie was speaking after it emerged that members of cross-border bodies put forward by the UUP had, according to the party, been "unceremoniously dumped".

UUP nominees were removed from the boards of he north-south bodies earlier this month and their seats taken by those recommended by the DUP.

A UUP spokesman said that until the party heard from the North South Ministerial Council then the reason for the removal of nominees was a "matter of speculation."

"We put forward our nominees based on their expertise in their respective fields and their commitment to the north-south bodies, so it is regrettable that they have been unceremoniously dumped at this late stage in the assembly mandate," a Ulster Unionist spokesman said.

The move comes three months after Mike Nesbitt led his party out of the executive in the midst of the fall-out from the shooting of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast's Short Strand which was blamed on members of the IRA.

Those whose tenures were not renewed include Ray Hayden, a former special adviser to Sir Reg Empey, who joined the board of IntertradeIreland four years ago, and Belfast PR practitioner Jane Wells who failed to get reappointed to SafeFood, the cross-border food safety body.

Also losing their boardroom seats are Cookstown councillor Trevor Wilson and UUP general secretary Jim Wilson, who failed to get reappointed to the Ulster Scots Agency and Loughs Agency, respectively.

It is understood the vacant seat on the Ulster Scots Agency will be taken by former Belfast DUP councillor Lee Reynolds.

The move has prompted Margaret Ritchie to question how her own party, which like the UUP played a key role in setting up the cross-border bodies as part of the Good Friday Agreement, would be treated were it to leave the executive.

She said the failure to reappoint the UUP's nominees was "opportunistic and a cause of deep concern".

"It seems unnecessary to make these changes just a matter of months ahead of an election," she said.

"For that reason this move would appear be a combination of DUP ebullience and bullying."

Ms Ritchie said the cross-border bodies were a key aspect of the Good Friday Agreement and she questioned whether Sinn Féin had played a role in "dumping" the UUP nominess.

"I would be concerned that the SDLP would be similarly sidelined from the North-South bodies were the party to withdraw from the executive," she said.

"We also need to establish whether this decision was taken collectively with Sinn Féin's approval, as it's important that we protect the interests of the smaller parties and their electorate."

The South Down MP said she would be seeking to establish whether the removal of the UUP nominees met the equality provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent Northern Ireland Act (1998).

A spokesman for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister said membership of the North South bodies had expired and the executive had agreed replacements to serve for a further 12 months.

"The Ulster Unionist Party is no longer a part of the executive and was not involved in the nomination process," the spokesman said.

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