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'Guerilla warfare' claim as welfare Bill is passed

By Noel McAdam

Published 24/11/2015

Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson

Political parties are conducting "guerrilla warfare" in order to score points against rivals and attempting to undermine Northern Ireland devolution, a DUP MP has claimed.

Sammy Wilson was speaking in the House of Commons as welfare reform for Northern Ireland was pushed towards reality in just six hours after more than two years of delay.

As revealed in the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday, legislation to implement massive benefits changes here are being fast-tracked through Westminster.

The Bill cleared the Commons late last night and is now expected to be similarly fast-tracked through the Lords.

After being handed powers to implement the massive changes in last week's 'Fresh Start' Stormont deal, MPs yesterday dealt with the underpinning legislation, in the face of SDLP objections.

Foyle MP Mark Durkan said: "The Government has been accused of adopting a 'kangaroo parliamentary procedure' to stifle debate and 'fast track' changes to Northern Ireland's benefits system through Parliament. This sort of microwaved, fast-tracked procedure we are told is only to be used in emergency situations or when there is a compelling exigency.

"What is the compelling emergency in this situation, other than part of the overdose of political Febreze to accompany the step-down by the First Minister and the climb-down by Sinn Fein in relation to welfare reform?"

But DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused the SDLP of attempting to derail last week's agreement ,arguing that it was urgent that welfare was sorted out due to Treasury penalties on Stormont's Block Grant for failing to implement the plans.

Mr Wilson said: "There are still those who wish to conduct guerrilla warfare against the institutions in Northern Ireland."

He criticised the SDLP for finding a way of "beating Sinn Fein", and also hit out at Jim Allister's TUV, claiming they wanted to delay a deal in order to "destroy devolution".

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it is necessary to "fast track" the legislation so "welfare reform is no longer an issue which is undermining the political process here as it has done over the last four years".

She told the House: "The difference between the level of benefits in Great Britain and the level of benefits currently being paid out in Northern Ireland amounts to some £2m a week.

"That is a drain on the resources of the Executive which it can ill afford at this difficult time for the public finances."

Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan said the legislation was "most extraordinary", adding that "we've got it because our legislators in Northern Ireland are unable to do it themselves and are happy to pass the buck to Westminster.

"Also, because it's actually a worse deal than what was on offer in the original Stormont House discussions."

He also said it shows the UK Government is happy to listen to just the two main parties in Northern Ireland, a claim denied by Ms Villiers.

SF blasted by key supporter

The Andersonstown News has lambasted Sinn Fein for "a very significant error, and an embarrassing one to boot" over its support for welfare reform. The west Belfast paper is well known for its support for the party and one of its directors is Sinn Fein MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. But its latest editorial stated that "it's clear that Sinn Fein have resiled from their 'red line' position of protecting the vulnerable". It said "the marginalised and the needy - the people that Sinn Fein loudly promised to defend - will be hit hard". In a damning verdict, the paper described the 'Fresh Start' deal as "deeply unsatisfactory", and accused Sinn Fein of having "failed" on dealing with the past thanks to "an iron-clad proviso that 'national security' will always trump the truth".

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