Peter Robinson has lifted the lid on what he said was an agreement between DUP negotiators and Martin McGuinness on welfare reform.
The First Minister said that in six to nine months of DUP-Sinn Fein negotiations about the issue, it had been agreed that Stormont would fund the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ for all those currently to be affected by it.
“Sinn Fein were content with that proposal,” he said.
“We both had concerns about certain sectors that might find it really difficult under the new regime. So rather than change each of the individual aspects, we agreed to put together a contingency fund of £30m or £40m which would be capable of being used for cases of real hardship.
“Again, Sinn Fein agreed with that proposal. They also agreed with the administrative changes that we managed to get from DWP.”
He added: “After a long period of negotiation – and I was directly involved in those negotiations because it ended up, as most of the problems do, on Martin’s desk and on mine – we agreed a package with Sinn Fein at OFMDFM level and with the departmental [ministers] and spokespersons of all the parties present.
“I think it was about May 8 last year; Sinn Fein held their meeting of party colleagues in what they hoped would be an endorsement of that negotiated package.
“I was called in on a Saturday afternoon by Martin who had come down to tell me that he had been unable to get the package through their party organisation.
“Much of the problems seemed to be on tangential issues ... since that occurred on May 8, Sinn Fein have never come back to us to try and negotiate any change in the package because clearly they know it is a good package.”
Referring to criticism by Sinn Fein, Mr Robinson said that the party should have been fighting where changes could have been made – in the House of Commons.
“Instead, they abandoned the battlefield and left only the unionists and the SDLP and Alliance Party in the House of Commons to argue the case.”