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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Ministers clash in heated debate
Margaret Ritchie
Margaret Ritchie said she will not be bullied by the DUP
Sinn Fein and SDLP Ministers have clashed after a tense executive meeting at Stormont Castle.

SDLP Minister Margaret Ritchie expressed dismay over how colleagues responded to her decision to axe funding for a UDA-linked initiative.

The executive did not vote on the principle of her decision to cut 1.2m in loyalist funding. But it did adopt minutes which Ms Ritchie contested.

It put on record she had agreed not to act without consulting colleagues.

On her way out, Ms Ritchie accused Sinn Fein of voting with the DUP against her and both parties of trying to control other ministers.

I am firm in the belief that I have behaved properly at all times and the decision I have taken to end the funding was correct, was proper and in my conscience was the right thing to do
Margaret Ritchie

"I was outvoted by the DUP and Sinn Fein on what the Executive had decided in relation to my statement on the Conflict Transformation Initiative-Ulster Defence Association related project," she said.

"The two Ulster Unionist ministers voted with me. I believe that this sets a dangerous precedent as it allows the DUP and Sinn Fein to control other ministers by controlling all decisions.

"I am firm in the belief that I have behaved properly at all times and the decision I have taken to end the funding was correct, was proper and in my conscience was the right thing to do."

'Trenchant criticism'

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was very disappointed and said the social development minister was "losing the run of herself".

"The fact is that there was no vote whatsoever on her statement in the assembly. There was no vote whatsoever on the Conflict Transformation Initiative," he said.

We have got to about this in a legal way, in a proper process in the way in which the executive has laid down
Nigel Dodds

"In fact, there was trenchant criticism by all ministers but the decision was taken by Peter Hain in the first place to fund the UDA.

"There is not a person in the executive who would give the UDA 2d. That is exactly where this executive is at and I think Margaret needs to stop losing the run of herself."

DUP Economy Minister Nigel Dodds said the debate was not about the Conflict Transformation Initiative, but on the minutes of the last executive meeting and the directions given to Ms Ritchie.

"As far as we are concerned - and it was said in the executive - everybody accepts the aims and objectives that Margaret Ritchie has set out as far as paramilitarism is concerned, as far as the UDA is concerned, as far as ending criminality and parliamentary activity.

"But we have got to go about this in a legal way, in a proper process in the way in which the executive has laid down."

A 60-day deadline for the Ulster Defence Association to begin giving up guns expired last Tuesday.

The deadline was set in August after repeated violence linked to the UDA.

However, the UDA said it would adhere to its own timetable for getting rid of its weapons.

Meanwhile, ministers have also agreed a way forward on water charges.

It is thought this may involve deferring the charges for a year. But there is still no agreement on all the elements of a recent independent review on water.



SEE ALSO
Minister stops loyalist project
16 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
Tensions laid bare in UDA debate
16 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
How UDA cash carrot was pulled
16 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
Loyalist warning on UDA arms move
08 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
UDA takes steps towards disarming
06 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
UDA won't be pushed on arms deal
05 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland

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