Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's welfare system is better than Britain's, says Martin McGuinness

By David Young

Northern Ireland now has a welfare system that is better than Britain's, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness claimed last night.

He made the remarks during a speech delivered at Sinn Fein's Ard Fheis, held this year in Londonderry.

In a wide-ranging address, he hammered home his party's anti-austerity message, saying it continued to hold-off "Thatcherite policies that no one here voted for or wants".

Delegates also voted that no members of the royal family be invited to Ireland for the 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations.

"Protecting welfare services is an absolute red line for Sinn Fein," he told delegates.

"The categories of welfare recipients we have protected include children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities and families who would have been affected by the benefit cap. In addition, the punitive bedroom tax has been neutralised.

"We will not be part of an agenda which pushes more children into poverty or targets the disabled as a way to save money. That is why we negotiated and agreed to protect those benefits under the control of the Assembly so that the categories of claimants targeted by the Tories in Britain will be protected by the unique measures we are putting in place here.

"Sinn Fein doesn't do austerity. We do equality,"

He told conference delegates that in the run-up to the Stormont House negotiations, there was a real risk that the Executive - and the Assembly - would collapse.

"The Stormont House Agreement was a lifeline for the political institutions.

"Before the negotiations, many people predicted we would not succeed, but against all odds, we found a way forward on difficult issues including flags, parades, the past and emblems.

"We need to be very clear about the alternative if the institutions had collapsed - instead of our locally elected and accountable Assembly we would have had rule by British Tories and the imposition of Thatcherite policies that no one here voted for or wants."

Mr McGuinness slammed dissidents he called "so-called republicans who remain intent on dragging us back to the past".

He added: "Their campaign... is not only futile and without support - it is counterproductive, because the only time I see a British soldier on the streets these days is in response to their activities."

Taking a swipe at Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, he said: "Sinn Fein is the only party which is serious about building the kind of nation which was declared in 1916. A just nation. A fair nation. A nation that cherishes all of her children equally, regardless of colour or creed. That is what we stand for."

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