Belfast Telegraph

Iain Duncan Smith told not to ignore legacy of Troubles

By David Gordon

Conservative Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith has been urged not to ignore Northern Ireland's “particular circumstances” when it comes to welfare reform.

The Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary was in Belfast yesterday where he held meetings with Stormont ministers Alex Attwood and Sir Reg Empey.

Mr Attwood afterwards said his discussions had been “useful and forthright”.

The SDLP Social Development Minister has voiced concerns that Whitehall welfare reform plans will be used by the Treasury as a cost and benefit-cutting device.

He also believes Northern Ireland should be treated differently due to social problems and the legacy of the Troubles.

“I stressed to Iain Duncan Smith that there is a need to continue the conversation with him and the London Government to ensure that the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland are addressed,” Mr Attwood said.

“If there are useful welfare changes that can properly help people get into work this is something that does need to be looked at but it cannot be a device used to wage war on those on benefits.”

Sir Reg commented after the discussions: “I think it is almost universally accepted that the UK welfare system is fundamentally flawed.

“I welcome the Government's proposals. They rightly put the emphasis where it should be — on encouraging people to try work, to make work pay and to support those for whom work is not, unfortunately, a realistic option. I will now consider how to take these forward in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Duncan Smith told the Belfast Telegraph that his Government had inherited an “unsustainable” financial situation.

“The last Government already had plans to reduce spending, so we have to reduce spending. What I'm trying to do and will do, I believe, is to protect the most vulnerable from those spending reductions.”

On the issue of special circumstances in Northern Ireland, the former Tory leader said: “I'm going to see Scotland and I'm going to see Wales soon. I travel around.

“Wherever I go, people do talk about special circumstances. Wherever they exist we seek to try to find a way of ameliorating them.”

Mr Duncan Smith yesterday also attended the launch in Belfast of a new report on tackling serious social problems in Northern |Ireland.

It was published by the Centre for Social Justice, a think tank he set up in 2007.

The report says Northern Ireland needs to look beyond the Troubles and begin to address the causes of a “crippling level” of social breakdown.

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