Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness should publish details of the changes which would lead Sinn Fein to lift its veto of welfare reform legislation, a former DUP finance minister has said.
Sammy Wilson said that Sinn Fein’s continued veto of the bill was costing the Executive £5 million each month in Treasury fines and had the potential to cost more than 1,000 jobs for those who process benefit payments in the Province.
Mr Wilson, who has been publicly critical of Sinn Fein’s stance for more than a year, warned last summer that Stormont was in line to lose millions if it did not urgently address the issue.
Almost a year on, there is no sign that the Executive is closer to agreeing on the issue.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Wilson accused the Deputy First Minister and his party of being “grossly irresponsible”.
The East Antrim MP and MLA said: “Martin McGuinness has a duty to publish a list of the changes he wants to make to the Welfare Bill if he is going to continue blocking the bill and costing the Executive £5million per month.
“The Executive has already lost £15m as a result of penalties from the Treasury.
“Besides the financial penalties, 1,400-1,600 jobs are being put at risk. Northern Ireland offices process welfare payments for GB. Our UK Government has been categorical that these jobs will be moved to GB if welfare reform is not implemented here.
“The irony is that whilst SF claims it wants to protect the vulnerable, those same vulnerable people are being punished because of SF’s internal machinations — £5m per month would be better spent on teachers or nurses in Northern Ireland rather than being handed back to London in fines.”
He added: “Martin McGuinness and his colleagues need to realise that this is too serious for grandstanding.”
Almost a year ago, DUP Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland told a public meeting of the Unionist Forum that a deal had been agreed which he believed would satisfy all the parties and would be “going very soon to the Executive”.
Sinn Fein has threatened to veto one aspect of the proposed bill – the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’, where those on benefits in large houses with spare bedrooms would lose some benefits.
Mr McCausland said that the issue was one area of the reforms where he believed a resolution had been found.
On Sunday, DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton attempted to increase the pressure on Sinn Fein to allow welfare reform to proceed.
But at the weekend Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey gave no hint that the party is prepared to change its stance in the short term. He accused Mr Hamilton of “attempting to sell the British government’s plan to impose savage cuts on public services and jobs”.
He said: “It seems Simon Hamilton is on a crusade to scare the public into accepting Tory-imposed cuts. His claim today that we will be fined a billion pounds if we continue to oppose the cuts is simply ridiculous.
“It’s clear that Simon Hamilton has thrown in the towel on the cuts to public services and jobs and has resorted to scaremongering on the issue.”