Homeowners urged to send energy bills to Sinn Féin

People struggling to heat their homes were today urged to deluge Sinn Féin offices with copies of their energy bills in protest at the Stormont stalemate.

SDLP East Derry Assembly member John Dallat said the gesture would bring home to republicans what effect the ongoing political impasse is having on ordinary householders.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie (SDLP, South Down) has complained that her efforts to set up an emergency relief scheme for around 160,000 people struggling with fuel bills has been hit by the deadlock between Sinn Féin and the DUP at the heart of the power-sharing administration.

Sinn Féin, who have accused the DUP of failing to govern on the principles of equality and partnership, have refused to attend cabinet meetings for the last four months.

They say issues such as a timetable for the devolution of policing and justice powers have to be resolved before the executive can resume its work.

The other main parties, who have met informally in Sinn Féin’s absence, have accused the party of failing in their responsibility to help people hit by the economic downturn.

Mr Dallat’s call follows protests by Sinn Féin members in the South against last week's Budget.

“Over the weekend Sinn Féin in the South have been picketing the constituency offices of government ministers to protest against Brian Lenihan’s Budget,” he said.

“This is such a good idea that they should really bring it north of the border. They could start by picketing the offices of their own ministers who are blocking Executive meetings and preventing people getting help with their heating costs.

“Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has a proposal ready to go before the Executive to provide help of up to £200 to around 160,000 people who are having a hard time with heating costs. It could be put in place quickly, in fact it could be in place now – except that Sinn Féin are blocking it along with 40 other measures of urgent business.

“It would also be a really good idea if people who are likely to be in that group of 160,000 made a copy of their next heating bill and sent it to their nearest Sinn Féin office or representative along with a polite little note requesting an early meeting of the Executive.

“They dug themselves into a hole by handing vetoes to the DUP but there is no reason why the rest of us should sit in it with them any longer.”

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