Belfast Telegraph

Mike Nesbitt: Time Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness started negotiating

By Mike Nesbitt

Will the real Martin McGuinness step up to the talks table, please.

The Deputy First Minister is often labelled as Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator. Well, it's time to start negotiating. Is he intent on protecting the most vulnerable from Welfare Reform? Or is this about people and places south of the border? If about genuine concern for those who will lose out under Welfare Reform, let's work it through. We do not want to disadvantage people unfairly either.

There are three key questions, and it is deeply frustrating that Sinn Fein refused to answer them last week when the Prime Minister was in town. Question One: who do they want to protect from Welfare Reform? Two: how do they want to do it? And crucially Three: what will it cost?

The Ulster Unionist Party has answers. We want to protect families in low paid work who remain stuck in poverty. We want to ensure welfare payments are paid fortnightly, not monthly, because of the proven record of poor capacity for financial management, as identified by the Consumer Council. And we want to delay the so-called "Bedroom Tax" on those in public housing with unoccupied bedrooms. The latter is unfair because we do not have the housing stock to offer the choice between paying the tax and moving to a one-bedroom property. The cost of the latter, by the way, is around £20m per annum. If Sinn Fein's shopping list can be measured in tens of millions, we can do it. If it's hundreds of millions of new money, we have a major problem.

It is crucial to get those answers, because Corporation Tax is now hanging by a thread. There is very little time left to have the necessary legislation passed through Westminster this mandate. No one can believe the next Prime Minister will have the devolution of Corporation Tax powers at the top of their legislative agenda come May 8. We can do the budget, we need to do it, indeed we must do this week. The political focus has to switch away from dependency to wealth generation. The Ulster Unionist Party wants our people to be prosperous. Carpe Diem.

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