The fresh deal at Stormont this week came about after welcome movement on welfare reform.
But it remains unclear the extent to which welfare will be reformed, and indeed Sinn Fein’s willingness to back reform.
Further question marks hang over the DUP’s own determination to reform welfare, which is so urgently needed in Northern Ireland.
Not too much should be read into the comments of DUP councillor Glyn Hanna in Newry, Mourne and Down, who sounded positive about Sinn Fein’s opposition to reform, and who seemed to imply that his own party was not keen on reform. He is after all only a councillor. But he touches on an important point, albeit emphasising the cuts to tax credits.
The DUP has been adamantly opposed to tax credit reform, which is the most controversial aspect of the Tory government changes. But the party rarely articulates the moral arguments for ending the scandal of some families on benefits earning far more than working families and the scandal of 11.3 per cent of Northern Ireland’s population being on Disability Living Allowance. Instead the DUP argues for reform as a way of avoiding the Treasury penalty.
This is not good enough. Northern Ireland has to show that it is fiscally responsible, and reforming welfare is at the heart of that. We need to see a clear timetable for the end to the coming subsidies for reform, and the proper enactment of that reform so that money can instead be spent on other key services such as the NHS and infrastructure.
Prudence is particularly important given that cutting corporation tax has implications for London funding. On that topic, it is essential that Sinn Fein over-rules comments by Sinn Fein’s leader on Belfast City Council, Jim McVeigh, who is already casting doubt on the tax cut.
It will be an outrage if Sinn Fein is allowed to return to its cynical tactics of last year, when it reneged on the Stormont House Agreement.