Sinn Fein got it wrong on welfare: Green Party

Steven Agnew said the public were misled over welfare reforms
Steven Agnew said the public were misled over welfare reforms

Green Party leader Stephen Agnew has told his party conference that when it “came to the welfare cuts we stepped up to the plate”.

Speaking at Grosvenor Hall in Belfast on Saturday, the North Down MLA said his party had doubled in membership in the last six months and spoke at length about welfare reform.

He described his party as the only one that had opposed the introduction of Tory cuts at every stage and criticised Sinn Féin’s understanding and handling of welfare.

He said: “We proposed more amendments than any other party, but they were voted down.

“We were told by Sinn Fein that our amendments were not needed, a deal had been done, and the money was there, no one would be worse off.”

Adding that “the numbers never added up”, Mr Agnew said: “Before the deal we were told by the Social Development Minister the extra cost to maintain the current system would be £115m per year while NICVA estimated it at £250m per year. Sinn Fein said it was £560m per year.

“Yet we were being asked to believe that no one would be worse off because we had a top-up fund of £94m per year. I believe the public were being misled.”

He said when their party “signed a petition of concern to stop the welfare cuts, we did not back Sinn Fein – we signed a petition of concern against something which we opposed at the start, middle and end of the process”.

“We were never prepared to sell out the sick, the poor and the disabled in a dodgy deal with Tory Party,” he added. “Sinn Fein signed the Stormont House Agreement but when we exposed them it was they who came to us.

“They found us where we always where – standing against welfare cuts.”

Mr Agnew, who plans to stand as a Westminster candidate for North Down, also announced an additional four candidates throughout the Province.

Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy hit back at Mr Agnew for “making misinformed comment on the Stormont House Agreement”.

“The only part of Steven Agnew’s comment based on fact is that he wasn’t in the talks,” said Mr Murphy.

“I was in the talks and I can assure everyone that Sinn Fein’s focus at all times was to protect the most vulnerable in society – children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick and families with children – against the ravages of the Tory cuts.

“His attack on Sinn Fein over the figures contained in the agreement is completely disingenuous.”

He urged Mr Agnew and those who are trying to ”block the passage of the welfare bill to work with us to achieve those protections from the Tory cuts for the most vulnerable”.