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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 12:22 GMT
SDLP move 'devoid of principle'
Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson criticised the SDLP
The NI finance minister has described the SDLP's decision to vote against the programme for government as a "political stunt devoid of principle".

Peter Robinson was speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly as a debate on his first budget got under way.

He said the SDLP was more interested in opposition for its own sake.

Earlier, SDLP leader Mark Durkan denied his party was divided over whether to support the Northern Ireland budget and programme for government.

"I have been more that saddened, but not unduly surprised by the approach taken by some who appear to be dissipated that issues raised by ministers have been resolved," Mr Robinson said.

Speaking outside the chamber, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams described the SDLP as a party "which has lost its way".

"I am talking about a lack of considered and consistent leadership," he said.

"One week the SDLP votes for a programme for government and a budget and this week they vote against it.

"They have given no rational or logical answer for doing so."

The SDLP and Alliance Party are expected to vote against the budget, although the DUP, Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists are set to back it.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan
Mark Durkan's SDLP looks set to vote against the budget

On Monday, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie was the SDLP's only MLA to vote for the programme for government.

Mr Durkan said Ms Ritchie had supported the proposals because changes to the ministerial code meant she had no choice.

He said his party decided to vote against the programme for government because it was unclear on many issues including water reform, post-primary school reform and the health budget.

"If Ms Ritchie had not supported the programme for government, the DUP would have excluded her from office," Mr Durkan said.

"We have a mandate to do what we are doing, we are standing by our manifesto."

The assembly voted in favour of adopting the programme.

It was passed by 60 votes to 24, with the SDLP and Alliance Party voting against it.

Click here to view the assembly proceedings via the Northern Ireland Assembly website

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