Irish Republican News · March 9, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Stormont in new crisis after talks deal collapses


In a dramatic turnaround, Sinn Fein has said it will seek to block the welfare bill, a key element of the Stormont House Agreement, after accusing the DUP of acting in bad faith on the issue.

Martin McGuinness said the DUP had welshed on an agreement to “protect the most vulnerable” in society.

The five main parties reached an outline agreement in talks at Stormont House just before Christmas on a number of key issues. A deal on welfare, with British Prime Minister David Cameron demanding radical cuts in the cost to the British exchequer, was seen as essential to achieving a positive outcome.

It followed twelve weeks of talks involving the main Six County parties and the Dublin and London governments.

Mr McGuinness, the deputy first minister, said: “At Stormont House the five parties agreed a series of measures to protect the vulnerable and safeguard current and future welfare claimants under the control of the executive.

“However, the DUP have acted in bad faith and are now reneging on their commitments to protect the most vulnerable. It is their intention to provide only partial protection to current recipients of benefit and no protection whatsoever for future claimants.

“That is totally unacceptable.”

He described it as a “very serious situation” that could have “profound implications” for both the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) and the devolved institutions in Belfast.

The SHA had been criticised by Sinn Fein’s nationalist political opponents as a device to implement Tory cuts in the Six Counties. Prior to the talks, DUP figures had vowed to use Sinn Fein’s political agenda as “toilet paper”, and the resulting document contained few details regarding future spending plans or other important elements of the agreement.

Neverthless, Martin McGuinness last week told journalists of an “improved mood” at Stormont, and at the party’s weekend Ard Fheis (annual conference), both McGuinness and party leader Gerry Adams staunchly defended the welfare deal.

But at a press conference in Belfast this morning, Mr McGuinness revealed that the problems with the welfare reform bill had been an issue for quite a while.

He said that he travelled from the Ard Fheis to discuss the issues, and accused the DUP of not showing up to those discussions. He said welfare was a ‘red-line issue’ for Sinn Fein and that the DUP, its partner in government, had acted in bad faith.

Sinn Fein is now set to issue a petition of concern to try to stop the bill’s passage in the assembly, which requires the support of thirty assembly members. Sinn Fein currently has 28. Mr McGuinness said his party was talking to assembly members from other parties about this.

Responding, DUP leader Peter Robinson rubbished Sinn Fein’s statement as “ham fisted” and said his party would continue to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson accused the Sinn Fein leadership of caving in to pressure from within the party and from trade unions. He said: “If they block the Welfare Reform Bill then I am bound to say they are reneging on the Stormont House Agreement. If that happens we are in very very troubled waters”.


* In other news today, it was reported that the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Jim Molyneaux, has died at the age of 94.

Molyneaux was in charge of the UUP from 1979 to 1995, and his quietly stern demeanour becoming syonymous with unionist intransigence in the early years of the peace process.

In 1997, he was elevated to the House of Lords as ‘Baron of Killead’ in honour of his services to the Crown. A full report on his passing will be carried in this week’s edition of Irish Republican News.

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