DUP claim SF refusing to discuss solutions to welfare reform impasse

Ian McCrea
Ian McCrea

Sinn Fein has refused to settle a dispute over welfare reform which threatened the devolved government institutions in Northern Ireland until after the General Election, the DUP have claimed.

Republicans withdrew support for the change at the eleventh hour earlier this year, alleging power-sharing partners the DUP had shown bad faith and that the legislation would hurt the most vulnerable.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said public services could be damaged by the impasse because of the budget problems it created if a wider deal on funding for Stormont was not implemented soon.

“By refusing to settle this matter until after the election Sinn Fein will cause further cuts to public services,” he said.

“No doubt when services are cut Sinn Fein will, without embarrassment, blame everyone else.”

The Prime Minister has said the public wanted their leaders to come together and resolve the fall-out over the Stormont House Agreement, which was signed just before Christmas between the five main parties and facilitated by the British and Irish governments.

It envisaged changes including the devolution of powers to set corporation tax from London to Belfast and special mechanisms to investigate killings during the Troubles.

Mr Robinson said: “The DUP will continue to honour the deal we all agreed. There will be no renegotiating the deal. We will only discuss how it is to be implemented.”

The latest impasse in the long-delayed process of implementing welfare reforms centres on the scope of Stormont-funded mitigation schemes designed to support those worst hit by the changes to the benefits system.

The dispute flared when Sinn Fein withdrew support for welfare legislation over concerns that the measures were not extensive enough.

The party claimed the DUP intended to provide only partial protection to current recipients of benefit and no protection whatsoever for future claimants.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said previously: “If the DUP want to strip benefits from children with disabilities, from adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick, or push children further into poverty, then they need to explain and justify that.”

Implementing the Government’s changes to the benefits system is a key plank of December’s Stormont House Agreement.

Without finally passing the repeatedly stalled legislation, the whole deal would likely implode.