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Peter Robinson: Tax credits is latest roadblock to Stormont deal

By Liam Clarke

Published 30/10/2015

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson has warned that there can be no deal at Stormont until we know what will happen with tax credits - and there are just 10 days left to make an agreement.

The five biggest parties have been in negotiations for almost six weeks about the budget and welfare reform as well as past and present paramilitary activity.

"We are coming to the vital stage, the endgame," the DUP leader told journalists.

He added: "It is my view that if we cannot reach agreement then the process itself will be terminated."

Sources close to the talks say that next week Mr Robinson hopes to travel to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister or the Chancellor to put the need for more money to them.

He may be accompanied by Mr McGuinness who said on Wednesday that the talks had to be settled within days, not weeks.

Sinn Fein had previously tended to regard deadlines as artificial and this moved him onto Mr Robinson's ground.

Much of the dispute is over welfare reform. Changes were made in Britain which save money but reduce benefits with the result that Sinn Fein and the SDLP blocked them.

We have been fined £10m a week since to reclaim the extra payments. The Stormont House Agreement, concluded last year, took account of this but Sinn Fein pulled out of it when it became clear that Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, planned to cut £12bn more from welfare.

Tax credits are a benefit paid to working families which Mr Osborne tried to cut but was defeated in the House of Lords.

He will present revised proposals in an autumn statement on November 25.

The DUP is moving onto Sinn Fein's ground in seeking "future proofing" against benefit cuts. Mr Robinson explained: "We made the Stormont House Agreement with the situation as it then related to us. Since then, there have been other changes, particularly changes relating to working tax credits.

"I am not sure if it is generally known within the media, and indeed the population, the massive impact that that will have here in Northern Ireland.

"We have over 100,000 families who are relying on tax credits in order to remain in work."

He stated bluntly "that cannot be allowed to proceed and looking at the issues... I don't feel that it is sufficient to simply resolve welfare 1 issues (that is ones that existed last year). I think that we have to deal with the up-to-date situation and look at what is likely to happen in terms of those recipients of tax credits."

Theresa Villiers (left), the Secretary of State, welcomed the continued engagement and urged speed.

"It is essential a successful conclusion is reached very soon," she said.

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