Northern Ireland

Margaret Ritchie rejects jobseekers plan

Margaret Ritchie
Image caption Margaret Ritchie held her first party conference as leader

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has strongly criticised proposals to make jobseekers do compulsory work in order to retain their benefits.

Newspaper reports on Sunday suggested the plan would be part of a government white paper on welfare reform due to be published this week.

As a former social development minister Margaret Ritchie used to be in charge of the NI welfare system.

On Sunday she said "Tory dogma" was influencing government policies.

"Again we see Tory dogma being dressed up as some form of social justice," she told the BBC.

"That is a completely unacceptable situation.

"When will this government ever learn that we need certain flexibilities in Northern Ireland to ensure that people who are vulnerable are protected?"

On Saturday, Ms Ritchie told her supporters at the SDLP's annual conference that her party's latest economic proposals would guarantee no compulsory redundancies in the public service.

Besides protecting jobs, the SDLP said its main priorities are the creation of a shared society in Northern Ireland and progress towards a united Ireland.

Representatives from parties in the Irish Republic joined SDLP delegates for a debate on the prospects for a united Ireland.

Presenter Miriam O'Callaghan made a presentation on Saturday to former SDLP leader John Hume.

He was recently voted 'Ireland's Greatest' in an RTE poll.

Ms Ritchie, who was elected MP for South Down in May, succeeded Mark Durkan as SDLP leader in February.

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