Sinn Fein has said that it is “quite unrealistic” to suggest a deal on welfare reform will be agreed with the DUP before the general election.
The comments, which were made by Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey, suggest that little progress has been made between the two main Stormont parties in resolving the welfare impasse since the latest ‘crisis’ erupted more than a month ago.
Northern Ireland’s lengthy delay in implementing Westminster’s welfare reforms is costing the Stormont budget – which pays for hospitals, schools and road maintenance – almost £2.2 million every week.
Sinn Fein has insisted that no one should lose any money under welfare reform, something it says requires more than £200 million more to be taken out of other Stormont budgets.
On Friday First Minister Peter Robinson insisted that he will not agree to any extra money for welfare reform.
The DUP leader 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. By refusing to settle this matter until after the election Sinn Fein will cause further cuts to public services.
“No doubt when services are cut Sinn Fein will, without embarrassment, blame everyone else.”
Mr Maskey’s comments were made in an interview with Brian Pelan, the editor of VIEW – an online magazine for the community/voluntary sector in Northern Ireland – at the end of a conference on homelessness.
Mr Maskey told VIEW: “It is quite unrealistic to think we will get a deal on welfare reform before May 7.
“A document I received last night as part of shared discussion papers leads me to believe that we won’t be reaching agreement anytime soon.
“At this present time, I couldn’t give great hope as to the sustainability of the political institutions, because if it requires an agreement on the basis of the welfare reform deal we are getting at present from Westminster, then a deal is not on offer.”
The West Belfast MLA said that if the Conservatives are re-elected and make further multi-billion pound cuts to the welfare budget “I can’t see us as an institution being sustainable if we get that type of policy”.
He added: “From what I can see a deal is far off at this moment in time.”
With the DUP and Sinn Fein at loggerheads over what they agreed in December, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy insisted that his party wasn’t to blame for the delay in resolving the costly impasse.
He said: “We have had our full negotiating team available ... any delay in reaching a resolution does not lie with Sinn Féin.”