Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Northern Ireland welfare reform row lands on David Cameron's doorstep

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew, party president Gerry Adams and vice president Mary Lou McDonald at the Houses of Parliament

Prime Minister David Cameron has met the First and Deputy First Ministers in what was billed as a celebration of a year's progress on an economic pact between London and Stormont.

But it seems to have soon deteriorated into a row about welfare reform as Martin McGuinness attempted to face down Mr Cameron on the issue.

Mr Robinson disagrees with the Sinn Fein position on welfare reform.

The row broke out because Sinn Fein is refusing to give the go-ahead for Northern Ireland to come into line with welfare reforms in England and Wales.

As a result £100m is being cut from our budget from London.

Sinn Fein was utterly resolute on the issue after yesterday afternoon's meeting and Mr McGuinness threw responsibility back on London.

"We are in conflict with the British Government and we said that to David Cameron," Mr McGuinness said. He told the Prime Minister that the cuts imposed by London had upset the Executive's plans.

"I reminded him that I have been involved in putting together two Programmes for Government, first of all with Ian Paisley and then with Peter Robinson in 2011, where none of this was discussed and where we put in place a plan to develop our economy front and centre of our Programme for Government.

"So we told David Cameron this was a problem that he has created and it is a problem that he needs to find a resolution for," he said.

Mr McGuinness said "we are not in conflict with the DUP on the issue of welfare," but Mr Robinson disagreed. He condemned Sinn Fein's approach to welfare reform as more damaging than the Government's welfare reform package.

"The Prime Minister discussed the issue with us. He indicates very clearly that there is no further room for manoeuvre. There won't be any additional funding available," the First Minister said. "This year Sinn Fein cuts arising from penalties imposed by their failure to take responsible decisions will cost £100m.

"Over a five-year period it will cost £1 billion. Next year this will rise to £114m," he added. He said health and education, our two highest spending departments, would suffer.

Mr Cameron put a more positive spin on the meeting.

"It is great news that the long-term economic plan is working for Northern Ireland," he said, announcing that his Government would allow the Executive to borrow £100m more this year, mainly for shared or integrated education.

At a separate meeting with Sinn Fein alone, the Prime Minister was urged to proactively back the Haass proposals on flags, parading and past.

Gerry Adams, the Louth TD and Sinn Fein president, said his party had expressed "serious concerns to Mr Cameron at his Government's disconnect from its responsibilities under the terms of the Good Friday and other agreements".

Mr Adams stated: "In our view, the political process has deteriorated in recent months.

"Recently Mr Cameron has begun to indicate an awareness that the process is in difficulties. He did so again today."

Mr Adams called for the British and Irish Governments to intervene in the talks process on flags, parading and the past in their role as "equal guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement".

Background

David Cameron had two meetings with delegations from Ireland yesterday. The first was with the First and Deputy First Ministers to discuss the economy at the House of Commons.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers also attended. He held a second meeting in the House of Commons with a cross-border Sinn Fein delegation which included Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle Gildernew. This focused on the peace process.

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