Mike Nesbitt: Rekindle March deal on welfare reform
A deal that seemed poised to resolve the welfare reform impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP could still be revived, it was claimed last night.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt urged First Minister Peter Robinson to release papers on the details of what has become known as the Belfast City Airport deal in March.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers had also hoped the arrangement, which was abandoned as the parties focused on the general election, could be re-examined.
Mr Nesbitt said papers around the potential deal had been discussed when the five parties, including SDLP and Alliance, met with Ms Villiers and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan on Tuesday. But while Mr Robinson had responded positively to a request for the papers, they had still not been distributed.
The UUP chief said Mr Robinson told Tuesday's meeting there are four ways forward: return to Stormont House Agreement reached between the parties just before Christmas; the UK Government taking back control over welfare from Stormont; an Assembly election, or the so-called "phantom" budget.
"We see a fifth way. That is to share the papers informing us whatever the DUP and Sinn Fein agreed at their meeting at Belfast City Airport on March 18. Peter Robinson says that agreement failed on three grounds, but we believe if there is a will, a way can be found to overcome the blockages," said Mr Nesbitt.
The DUP is planning a "take it or leave it" budget in the hope that Sinn Fein and the SDLP will have to change tack or Westminster will have to wrest control of the welfare system.