Sinn Fein to resist more austerity
Sinn Fein will resist the imposition of further austerity cuts in Northern Ireland by whatever government emerges from the general election, Martin McGuinness has vowed.
Stormont's deputy first minister said he would be seeking immediate negotiations with the new administration at Westminster with the goal of securing a better deal in the next comprehensive spending review period, which starts next year.
Attending a Sinn Fein candidate launch in Belfast, Mr McGuinness said he believed his party's main partners at Stormont - the Democratic Unionists - were "on the same hymn sheet" in regard to the need to challenge the incoming government's spending plans.
He said the main British parties needed to recognise that Northern Ireland was a special case, as it was a society emerging from conflict.
"The main British parties are committed to further eye-watering cuts to public spending," he said.
"These policies are economically wrong, I believe they are undemocratic, that they are unjust and they are unfair. So a new way is required to grow the economy, to create jobs and deliver quality public services. Sinn Fein is committed to ending austerity, returning economic power back into the hands of citizens and building a fair recovery.
"Following this election Sinn Fein will be seeking an immediate negotiation with the incoming British government to secure a viable budget and to deliver public services, return economic powers to promote growth jobs and prosperity and to protect those most in need.
"We will be calling on all of the other political parties (in Northern Ireland), and civic society, including churches and trade unions, to stand up against austerity and for growth and equality. Any incoming British government must get the message - we will resist austerity on our public services, our economy and our citizens."
Sinn Fein and the other four executive parties are involved in negotiations in a bid to finally end an impasse over the non-introduction of welfare reforms in the region.
The landmark Stormont House political deal, which paved a way forward on a number of key issues, including the devolution of corporation tax powers, will only be implemented if a resolution is found to the welfare element of the agreement.
The current dispute flared earlier this year when Sinn Fein withdrew support for welfare legislation in the Assembly over concerns that Stormont Executive's mitigation measures for those losing out under the Government's changes to the benefits system would not cover new claimants.
Since then the parties have been trying to find a way forward, with officials from Stormont's Department of Social Development (DSD) working on schemes to ensure the most vulnerable are protected.
Today Mr McGuinness said while he remained hopeful agreement could be found before the election he suggested the complicated nature of the number crunching by the DSD could delay matters.
But he added: "I don't view that as anything remotely approaching a crisis."
He rejected the suggestion by DUP leader Peter Robinson that Sinn Fein was dragging its heels until the election is over.
"I have always been keen to get a resolution before the election," said Mr McGuinness.
"But what we have learned as a result of the engagement around the issue of welfare, particularly the work that has to be done by senior officials within the Department of Social Development, is that important papers need to come forward to the party leadership group meetings and they (DSD officials) are very cautious about ensuring those papers are what we need in terms of resolving the issues that need to be resolved.
"So we are still awaiting some papers and my sense of it is this is an issue that can be resolved."