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Doherty disappointed at Minister Ritchie's failure to suspend Social Security Agency office centralisation proposals

26 January, 2009

West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP MLA Pat Doherty expressed disappointment at DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie's continued non-committal position in relation to growing calls for her to suspend proposals contained in the Social Security Agency's Strategic Business Review to centralize the functions of Social Security Offices and move away from face to face contact for members of the public at local DHSS offices.

The West Tyrone MP, along with Omagh Sinn Féin Cllr Declan Mc Aleer and Strabane Sinn Féin Cllr Michaela Boyle, met with Minister Ritchie and two senior Departmental officials as part of the continuing lobby against the implementation of these proposals at the Assembly this morning.

Following the meeting Pat Doherty said:

"The Sinn Féin delegation left the Minister and her officials in no doubt about our outright opposition to these centralisation proposals and our view that they should be suspended particularly in the context of the economic downturn where the workload and pressure on staff at local DHSS office is spiralling by the day.

"We put forward our view that these proposals would not only lead to a severe diminution in services for people within the benefits system but would also lead to a major deterioration in the work conditions of many low paid civil servants who would be forced to travel to central processing centres.

"Given that the Assembly DSD Committee has also called for these proposals to be suspended in light of current economic realities, I would have hoped that the Minister would have taken the opportunity of this morning's meeting to signal her intent to do so.

However, I was disappointed at Minister Ritchie's non-committal position. She stated that she has yet not yet made a decision on the matter and would not do so until the consultation and EQIA into the proposals is complete.

"I believe that if the Minister has the political will, she could suspend these proposals immediately as there is no merit whatsoever in taking them forward in this current economic climate."

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