It is “an outrage” that Sinn Fein is vetoing welfare reform, costing Northern Ireland £100 million a year, First Minister Peter Robinson last night said.
Speaking after joining Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for a meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, Mr Robinson said that they had been told by David Cameron that there is no room for negotiation on welfare reform.
Following the meeting with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, the Prime Minister held his first ever meeting with Sinn Fein as a political party.
Speaking after that meeting, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that his party would be making “no apologies” over its stance and Mr McGuinness said that Sinn Fein was “not in conflict” with Mr Robinson on the issue, attempting to portray it as purely a clash with the Government.
Last night Mr Robinson said that both he and Mr McGuinness had been told by the Prime Minister that they could not negotiate any further on welfare reform.
Mr Robinson claimed that Sinn Fein’s approach was “more damaging than the Coalition Government’s welfare reform package”.
He said: “This year Sinn Fein cuts arising from penalties imposed by their failure to take responsible decisions will cost £100 million. Over a five-year period it will cost £1 billion.
“The finance minister will have to adjust budgets to deal with the penalties caused by Sinn Fein.
“This will mean tough decisions and less money being available for hospitals, schools and policing.”
Mr Robinson accused republicans of failing to “act responsibly”.
He added: “In our discussions, the Prime Minister was absolutely clear that there is no more room for manoeuvre on welfare reform.
“Now is the time to decide this issue. The days of republican ducking and diving are over.”
Three months ago Mr Robinson warned that Northern Ireland stood on the brink of a financial crisis if Sinn Fein continued its refusal to extend welfare reform to Northern Ireland.
Mr Robinson warned at the time that Stormont faced “nuclear options” if there was a continuation of the current impasse over changes to benefits, including the possibility that Westminster will take full control of the social security system in the Province.
However, the Government played down any suggestion of legislating for welfare reform over the heads of Stormont ministers.
Mr Robinson has also warned that it could cost £1.8 billion to replace the current computer system if Northern Ireland does not buy into the UK-wide changes to how welfare payments are made.
But Sinn Fein has accused its Stormont Castle partner of attempting to “cosy up” to the Conservative Party ahead of a possible deal between the parties after next year’s General Election.