NI leaders express “degree of hope” in Welfare Reform crisis talks

March 16, 2015

Political party representatives are due to meet again today (Monday) to examine figures worked up over the weekend by Stormont officials after intensive discussions took place in Stormont on Friday to address the political crisis over the non-implementation of welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

An apparent breakthrough was made during Friday’s number crunching meeting leading Stormont leaders to express a degree of hope that the crisis can be resolved.

The collapse of the landmark Stormont House deal would threaten the devolution of corporation tax powers to Belfast and new mechanisms to address the legacy of the Troubles.

The deadlock arose after Sinn Fein dramatically withdrew support from welfare legislation just hours before a final assembly debate last Monday. Amid fierce criticism of a perceived u-turn, Sinn Fein released a dossier of documents explaining its decision to withdraw support for the welfare reform bill.

According to Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy the dossier set out the documentation which informed the welfare agreement on 19 December and contained a series of exchanges with the DUP which “clearly” demonstrated that the DUP had “acted in bad faith.”

“At all times Sinn Féin was absolutely clear, privately and publicly, that the agreement was to provide full protection for current and future claimants of benefits under the control of the Executive.

“These documents illustrate that this is the case,” said Mr Murphy.

He claims the DUP tried three weeks ago to “roll back” from the commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement by “attempting to limit protections to existing claimants only” and that, despite Sinn Fein being “committed to finding a solution”, repeated attempts to meet with the DUP were ignored.

He said this led to Sinn Féin submitting its petition of concern over the bill in the Assembly on Monday.

Westminster DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds placed responsibility for the impasse squarely with Sinn Fein and its negotiating team accusing the party of “reneging for selfish party political advantage” while Prime Minister David Cameron strongly urged “everyone to do what they signed up to do in that agreement, Sinn Fein included.”