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First Minister Peter Robinson may seek Assembly vote to hand back welfare powers to London

By Liam Clarke and David Young

Published 14/05/2015

Plans: Peter Robinson
Plans: Peter Robinson

The First Minister has said he will seek an Assembly vote to hand welfare powers back to London if Sinn Fein refuses to implement reforms of the benefits system.

However, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has told the Alliance Party that Westminster will neither take back responsibility for welfare nor give Stormont more money to pay for it.

DUP leader Peter Robinson insisted that, if Sinn Fein refused to deal, an intervention by the UK Government would be the only way of preventing Stormont's collapse.

"If we don't take those decisions then I think it is incumbent on the Government in London to take back those powers, to implement welfare reform themselves - the alternative would be for the Assembly to fall," he said. While a 'petition of concern' would enable Sinn Fein to block any motion calling for intervention, even if it was backed by a majority of MLAs, Mr Robinson predicted the Government would still look at the raw voting numbers to assess where most support lay.

"It would be an unusual move made necessary by the inability of Sinn Fein to make difficult decisions," Mr Robinson said.

Ms Villiers has begun meeting the parties to put pressure on them to implement the reforms. After her meeting with Alliance, Employment Minister Stephen Farry said: "There are no illusions by us or the Government over the depths of this current crisis. The choice is clear - either the parties find the means to honour the agreements made at Stormont House and begin the process of restoring financial sanity, or Northern Ireland budgets fall apart with all of the political repercussions of that.

"Either the parties locally implement a Northern Ireland-tailored version of welfare reform or we will see... the full blown GB version of welfare reform."

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