Video: Finance minister says NI facing ‘day of reckoning’ over welfare reform

Finance minister Simon Hamilton has said that Northern Ireland is facing a “day of reckoning” over its refusal to implement Westminster’s welfare reforms.

The DUP minister told the News Letter that if Sinn Fein continued its veto of the reforms, it would be the party’s voters who would suffer through cuts to public services.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton

Mr Hamilton said that although his belief that Northern Ireland needs to implement welfare reform is largely pragmatic, he welcomed some aspects of the changes, such as the simplification of the benefits system, the move towards making it clear whether work pays if an individual comes off benefits and the encouragement to get those on benefits into work.

He said that some elements of the reforms are negative “and will have a disproportionate affect on Northern Ireland”, but insisted that those have been ameliorated by to the concessions to the Executive agreed by the Treasury, including the removal of the spare-room subsidy (or bedroom tax) will not apply to any current benefit claimants in the Province.

Sinn Fein — which initially indicated to the DUP that it would accept the deal before the party’s power-brokers rejected it — has urged the DUP to join it in pressing Westminster for more concessions.

But Mr Hamilton insisted that “it’s pretty clear we aren’t going to get anywhere” with the Government, partly because to make further changes in Northern Ireland would enrage constituents of the mainland MPs, given that they are already losing out to the Province.

In a swipe at Sinn Fein’s Stormont-salaried MLAs, he added that they are now starting to see “the impact — not on them — but the impact on their constituents”.