Belfast Telegraph

Welfare reform crisis: There were other agendas at work, claims minister behind Bill

By Noel McAdam

The minister in charge of welfare reform has claimed Sinn Fein has "other agendas" at work that have little to do with benefits and are threatening the future of Stormont.

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey told MLAs that SF "will not use me and my party to undo and unpick" the Stormont House Agreement reached in December. But he also admitted meeting a delegation from Sinn Fein last Thursday when concerns over figures provided by his departmental officials were raised and clarifications sought.

Mr Storey insisted, however, that there was "no indication that there was going to be the bombshell (which) dropped on Monday" when SF withdrew support for welfare legislation. Mr Storey pulled the Bill from the Assembly.

During the exchanges at Assembly Question Time the DUP minister demanded an apology from SF for its "slur" on his officials over the figures.

Sinn Fein said there is a gap of almost £300m between the SHA and what is needed to protect vulnerable groups, but Gerry Kelly insisted that the DUP was to blame, rather than officials.

Mr Storey said: "To say that we were shocked would be to put it mildly.

"What happened in the House and in the building yesterday was monumental for the future of these institutions.

"I think that it was clear from what happened yesterday that other agendas are at work. I do not think that they are all down to concerns about welfare."

It is believed he was referring to Sinn Fein's aim of being in government in the Republic after the next election there, where it has positioned itself on an anti-austerity ticket.

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