Agreement in jeopardy after Stormont vote
Agreement in jeopardy after Stormont vote


Crisis talks are to take place between the main political parties in the North this week in a bid to revive the Stormont House Agreement and sustain the political institutions in Belfast.

The meeting, hosted by the Dublin and London governments will be held at Stormont House on Tuesday, is being described as a “review” of the agreement.

It is not clear whether DUP First Minister Peter Robinson -- who is recovering from a reported cardiac arrest -- will be well enough to attend the meeting.

On Tuesday, key welfare reform legislation insisted upon by the London government was rejected in the Stormont assembly. Using a petition of concern, the two nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, vetoed the legislation after it was discovered that the cuts would hurt the most vulnerable in society.

Sinn Fein said top-up schemes designed to protect welfare recipients were not as comprehensive as they had been led to believe in December’s negotiations, and accused unionists of acting in bad faith.

There had been suggestions that the assembly could collapse within days after the welfare legislation was rejected, although those were quickly discounted. However, the crisis deepened further on Thursday when the parties failed to agree a budget for next year’s public spending.

The DUP has now set a new deadline and warned if the government does not step in, the assembly will collapse by the end of July. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the British government must take control of welfare powers if nationalists do not accept the planned cuts.

“It is not sustainable to have this level of damage caused to our public services by parties because they are not prepared to take practical and sensible financial decisions,” he said.

Sinn Fein said its concern was not just about welfare, but the implications of further cuts threatened by the Tories as part of a 25 billion pound reduction to be outlined in the July budget.

The cuts - which have been described as ‘eye watering’ by the Tories themselves - will affect the most vulnerable and lead to the loss of thousands of jobs within vital frontline services such as health and education.

Sinn Fein Deputy Martin McGuinness said they “formed absolutely no part” of the discussions which led to the Stormont House Agreement.

“Last week, I spoke to someone who had recently discussed with Downing Street officials the extent of what is facing us. He said he could only describe it in one word - brutal,” he said.

Sinn Fein has also expressed concern at plans by the Conservatives to scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act, considered an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement, and to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union, which could dramatically reinforce the partition of the island.

Mr McGuinness said the crisis facing the Stormont parties was not of their making.

“The Tories received only 9,000 votes in the north, just over one per cent of the vote,” he said.

“This is a party, which doesn’t have a single Assembly or local council seat. They have no democratic mandate for their austerity policies in the north of Ireland.

“Yet they have already taken 1.5 billion pounds from the Executive’s block grant. And Cameron’s cabinet of Tory millionaires have announced plans for further cuts of 25 billion pounds to our public services and to welfare protections for people with disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.”

He said representatives from Stormont should join a meeting of the representatives of the Scottish and Welsh local Assemblies to develop a common position.

“The current crisis has come about solely through the actions of the British government. It can only be resolved by the actions of the British government.”

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