The abysmal failure of the Stormont government to deal with welfare reform may yet do as much damage to the prospects of Northern Ireland as the IRA Army Council could once but have dreamed.
Why? Because slowly but surely a massive welfare time bomb is building up that once it explodes will cause economic chaos.
The fuse was lit when the Stormont Executive refused to implement the £26k cap on welfare now in place elsewhere in the UK.
This costs us around £90m per annum and is set to jump to an eye watering £200m+ by 2017/18.
Some say that this is to protect “the most vulnerable’. Really?
Information provided by the Minister for Social Development reveals that the 10 highest benefits claimants in NI received £567,000 a year – that is £56,700 each!
That’s 250 per cent more than the average salary of a working person.
Does that sound reasonable to you?
In one case, a household is in receipt of £64,000 benefits.
That’s the equivalent of a salary of around £100,000 per annum. Does that sound like disadvantage to you?
Is this what we must protect above everything else?
This welfare cap is now being shrunk further to £23k and if our political dilettantes do not accept this then it will cost us further leaving even less for essential areas such as health and education.
Disability Living Allowance continues to grow and since 2010 it has soared by a jaw dropping 22 per cent!
This may not be surprising when we consider that parts of Northern Ireland – such as west Belfast – have 20 per cent of their population enjoying the splendor of this unearned cash.
Meanwhile Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – that which replaced Incapacity Benefit – has rocketed up by an unbelievable +39 per cent in the last year!
Throw into the mix the fact the government at Westminster is committed to reducing welfare tax credits and if, as seems likely, this passes into law, then Northern Ireland will find itself once again in the position where it either applies the change or sacrifices even further millions to sustain welfarism.
The point of welfare reform is to ensure that work pays. No one should be better off by choosing not to go out to work.
Yet this seems utterly incompatible with the views of some of those who sit in our devolved Assembly. They resile from making any tough decisions on welfare, with their eyes focused on the May elections in 2016.
They appear to believe that Northern Ireland can be the one part of the UK where budgets always rise and where financial probity is irrelevant.
They send a signal to hard working people that scrounging off the state is a respectable profession.
Northern Ireland was built by hard working people who were imbued with the work ethic and who took responsibility for themselves and their families without running to the state for handouts.
To urge this now seems almost radical but perhaps as we approach 2016 we are overdue a revolution?