£15m set aside for welfare reform delay fines
The SDLP and Sinn Fein have been accused of "irresponsibility" after Stormont set aside £15m to cover Treasury fines over the failure to implement welfare reform.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton announced the diversion of the money as part of the regular reallocation of unspent departmental funds to meet the monthly penalties of £5m for the first quarter of this year.
"This is, in effect, dead money returning to the Treasury which is unable to be spent on services that benefit our citizens," the DUP minister said. "The effects of not moving forward on welfare reform are starting to hit the people of Northern Ireland."
Referring to the two parties, which are resisting the changes already under way in the UK, he added: "Those who resist the inevitability of welfare reform can answer for why our health budget, our roads budget or our schools budget have to lose out this year, and potentially next year too."
Alliance insisted the £15m could have been better spent on hospitals and schools, and argued it would be more productive to oppose the reforms – the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for 40 years – at Westminster.
It came after a special meeting of ministers last week again failed to agree a way forward and it emerged the Treasury has not yet demanded the payback, but could do so at short notice.
The ministers are due to meet again soon.
Accusing the two nationalist parties of "political games", Alliance social development spokesman Stewart Dickson said: "We must reach agreement to stop these financial penalties. I do not support all the measures contained within the welfare reform bill, however the place to reject these proposals was Westminster."