I enjoy getting under the skin of Sinn Fein spokesmen by challenging their dishonesty, exposing their incompetence and highlighting their bankrupt policies.
This week their spokesman on welfare Alex Maskey has moved from bumbling to bluster as in interview after interview the ruinous consequences of their decision to block welfare reform legislation have been unfolded.
Their only idea is to tell the Westminster government that we do not like the policy of welfare reform, we want to be exempt so welfare spending in Northern Ireland should be left unchanged and money should be provided to enable that to happen.
This cloud cuckoo approach to politics ignores the fact the government is pushing the changes through in other parts of the UK despite severe opposition. It also ignores the fact that there is absolutely no political gain to the governing parties for such a concession in Northern Ireland since they don’t even stand for election here and it also ignores the fact that through the negotiations of DUP ministers Northern Ireland has gained concessions given to no other part of the UK and this is already causing some political embarrassment.
It is totally dishonest for Sinn Fein to pretend that if all the parties arrived at the door of the Chancellor asking for Northern Ireland to be exempt that he would smile nicely, say he understood our position, accept that we should be a special case and hand over hundreds of millions of pounds so that we would not have to introduce the horrible welfare changes. Yet this is the alternative which Sinn Fein is pedalling.
It is patronising of the thinking electorate, painful to listen to, pathetic as an argument and, is going to be painful for the public.
The ultimate cost will be over £1bn in direct costs to the Northern Ireland economy by the end of the next Assembly. It is ironic that this will be a self-imposed cut by a party which claims to be opposed to Tory cuts. The costs will have to be shared out amongst all departments and as Edwin Poots has spelt out this week every £10m cut from his budget represents 1,400 less hip replacements, 250 less nurses, 250,000 less GP referrals.
The worrying thing is that if the health budget were to bear its full proportion of the cost of Sinn Fein’s folly, the budget would take a hit of over £300m. Then there is the reductions to programmes to help the unemployed or measures to help children with special educational needs and so it goes on.
Sinn Fein know as well as anyone that the government is ideologically committed to welfare reform and that a show of solidarity by local parties is not going to change their mind. So what is their game? Why are they so willing to impose pain on the public in Northern Ireland? The answer is simple. They have big political ambitions for the Irish Republic.
To date they have been thwarted. They did not get as many TDs elected as they had anticipated. They were not invited to be partners in a coalition government. Martin McGuinness was roundly rejected when he stood in the Presidential elections, and their standing has been badly hit by the sleaze and allegations of criminal involvement directed at Gerry Adams. Their only hope of a breakthrough is to hammer hard at the economic austerity package which the Irish government is implementing.
That is why they cannot afford to be seen to be supporting welfare changes in Northern Ireland otherwise they would leave themselves open to charges of hypocrisy and allegations that if they became a party of government they would vote for an austerity programme just as they did when in government in Northern Ireland.
Their political project in the Republic would be put in jeopardy and so not for the first time this cynical, callous and calculating crowd are prepared to sacrifice the vulnerable for their own selfish ends. They are counting on getting away with this because in their arrogance they believe they are electorally untouchable in Northern Ireland.
It is time for honesty from the leadership of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. We are used to Martin McGuinness lecturing unionists about giving leadership. It is now his opportunity to show some courage and leadership. He knows, because I have heard him say it, that welfare reform has to be done. He also knows that the DUP have honestly done their best to obtain the kinds of changes which his party wanted to the welfare reform bill.
Instead of looking over his shoulder at the political fortunes of his party in the Irish Republic let him now do the right thing by the electorate in Northern Ireland and stop this dishonest, expensive and economically calamitous policy of holding up welfare reform in Northern Ireland.