Belfast Telegraph

Ulster warned on welfare deal delay

Northern Ireland will start to see a "significant negative impact" on its front line services if the political impasse over welfare reform is not resolved soon, the Northern Ireland Secretary has warned.

Theresa Villiers told MPs during questions in the Commons that every day welfare reform was delayed and every day that Sinn Fein and SDLP "refuse to live up" to their obligations under the Stormont House Agreement costs the Northern Ireland Executive money.

Her comments came as DUP Parliamentary group leader Nigel Dodds urged Ms Villiers to "live up to her responsibilities and actually take action" to ensure the Agreement was implemented.

Mr Dodds said: "Everyone in Northern Ireland and further afield agrees that the reason that the Stormont House Agreement isn't being implemented is the failure of Sinn Fein and the SDLP to live up to what they agreed to back in December and to actually implement what they actually agreed to and signed up to.

"Will the Secretary of State accept that this is now costing Northern Ireland £2 million a week in terms of loss to the public, to the block grant, hitting vulnerable people, imposing austerity and greater cuts these parties claim to be against and would she accept that she has to live up to her responsibilities and actually take action to ensure that agreement is implemented."

Ms Villiers replied: "I agree that everyday that welfare reform is delayed and every day that Sinn Fein and SDLP refuse to live up to their obligations under the Stormont House Agreement costs the Northern Ireland Executive money.

"If this situation isn't resolved soon then we will start to see a significant negative impact on Northern Ireland's front line services because it will not have a sustainable or workable budget without Sinn Fein and SDLP living up to the commitments they undertook as part of the Stormont House Agreement.

"I'll continue to work to see that welfare reform is agreed, is implemented and the Government will consider all the options."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis said that in the event of the Agreement being implemented, the Northern Ireland Executive "will operate a far more compassionate and generous benefits system than is available in the rest of the UK".

Ms Villiers responded: "It is crucial that the Northern Ireland Executive finds a way to live within its means."

Answering a later question from Labour's Pat Glass (North West Durham) on the security situation in Northern Ireland, Ms Villiers added: "This is yet another reason why this welfare question must be settled because the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) are amongst other front line services who will suffer directly if it is not and if the executive starts to run out of money because its budget is unworkable."

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