Conservatives claim Sinn Fein wants to keep its voters poor and on benefits

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Sinn Fein has a “vested interest” in keeping thousands of people in Northern Ireland on benefits, the Conservatives have claimed.

As Stormont faces a growing budgetary crisis over Sinn Fein’s refusal to allow reform of the Province’s welfare system, the Tories claimed that Sinn Fein was refusing to make the changes which would force people into work as it may lead to a loss in electoral support.

The comments came as Secretary of State Theresa Villiers warned that Westminster will not bail out Stormont if it fails to balance the books.

“The outcome of welfare reform being blocked by the nationalist parties is that Northern Ireland is going to be spending money on a more expensive welfare system, leaving less to spend on other very important priorities like the NHS and the police,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The Northern Ireland Conservatives’ spokesman, Mark Brotherston claimed that Sinn Féin’s political success “is based upon keeping people dependent on benefits and other hand-outs”.

He said: “The last thing Gerry Adams wants, is people in west and north Belfast, Derry, or any other deprived community in which the party is strong, getting off benefits, getting jobs and getting out of poverty.

“Sinn Féin’s political future is based on keeping people poor and making them feel helpless. If people weren’t dependent on benefits, they might not feel dependent on Sinn Féin and that would pose a terrible threat to the party.”

Make no mistake, there is no benefit for Sinn Féin in genuinely helping the vulnerable or helping people into prosperity. The party has a vested interest in keeping communities poor, vulnerable and dependent. That’s the reason it is the most intractable opponent of welfare reform which has seen unprecedented numbers of people return to work, in the rest of the UK.”

But Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKary said: “Sinn Féin’s opposition to Tory welfare cuts is about protecting the poor and the most disadvantaged in society.

“In Britain, where these cuts have already been introduced to devastating effect by the Tories there has been a marked increase in dependency on food banks and charitable organisations.

“We are rejecting Tory cuts because they take money directly out of the pockets of those least able to absorb the blow.”

As the money which Stormont has lost threatens to create a serious shortfall in the health budget, the TUV leader Jim Allister said that the crisis showed “that the Belfast Agreement is based on a flawed premise and can never deliver good government for the people of Northern Ireland”.

He added: “The failure of the Executive to agree on welfare reform leaves us looking over a financial precipice.”

Meanwhile, a charity lobbying for pensioners has reacted with anger to a Department of Health document which suggested that there could be cuts to domiciliary care packages if more money is not given to the department.

Age NI chief executive Linda Robinson said: “Older people are becoming increasingly concerned about how the NI Executive is ensuring that the commitments...the message underpinning this appears to be that older people are not a priority for the Northern Ireland Executive.”