Belfast Telegraph

Blame Sinn Fein and SDLP for the financial madness

By Nelson McCausland

The Assembly debate on welfare reform highlighted not only the problems around welfare reform, but also some of the political problems we face more generally in Northern Ireland.

Since then there has been a lot of debate in the media and one of the disappointments has been the practice of some commentators to blame "the politicians", or blame "Stormont".

Such commentators clearly lack the courage to tell the truth, or else they are just superficial in their analysis. It is not "the politicians" or "the parties" who have failed. It is "some politicians" and "some parties" - and those parties are Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

One radio presenter asked whether the problem was at Stormont or Westminster. The answer is that the problem is in Connolly House, the Belfast headquarters of Sinn Fein, and 121 Ormeau Road, the headquarters of the SDLP.

Those parties have behaved irresponsibly and, by aborting the Welfare Reform Bill, they have left a massive £600m hole in the Northern Ireland budget.

You can only spend what you have and that money will have to come from education, health and other important services.

It will mean fewer doctors and nurses, fewer operations in our hospitals and less money across all departments.

Moreover, we are already part-way through the year, so the £600m of Sinn Fein/SDLP cuts would not be spread over a full year. That exacerbates the situation even more.

This is financial madness and yet that is what Sinn Fein and the SDLP are imposing on the people of Northern Ireland.

They talk of "protecting the vulnerable", but their actions will not protect the vulnerable. They will punish the vulnerable and everyone else as well. So why did they do it?

Well, Sinn Fein MLAs are simply puppets, with Gerry Adams and his cabal in Dublin pulling their strings. The Sinn Fein priority is to increase its strength in the Dail in 2016, or sooner, and it believes it can do it on an "anti-austerity" platform.

In the Republic it has no power and no responsibility and so it can be as irresponsible and irrational as it wants.

However, it realises that it would be open to charges of hypocrisy if it condemned the current government in the Republic and, at the same time, implemented welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

So, the Dublin strategy dictates what Sinn Fein does in the Assembly. Gerry pulls the strings of the puppets and they do what the puppet-master wants.

Then it sends Alex Maskey out to defend the indefensible, the irresponsible and the irrational and hope that its vote in Northern Ireland will hold.

It is possible to get some idea of what is happening in Sinn Fein, but the SDLP is so divided, so damaged and so dysfunctional that it is hard to know exactly what is happening.

Nevertheless, as regards welfare reform, it has tried to outflank Sinn Fein, even though previous welfare reform measures were introduced under SDLP ministers in the last Assembly.

Unfortunately, with some notable exceptions, there seems to be a reluctance among commentators to tell it as it is.

We all have concerns about Conservative-style welfare reform and that is why, when I was Minister for Social Development, I devoted a lot of time to developing a better reform package more suited to the circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Moreover, it was a package of which many people in England were envious. That work has been carried on by my successor, Mervyn Storey.

I secured flexibilities that are not available in England and agreed ways of dealing with issues such as the bedroom tax.

Sadly, by their self-serving actions in the Assembly, Sinn Fein and the SDLP have threatened those mitigations.

They are actually and actively working against the best interests of our society and the best interests of those whom they claim to be protecting.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly’s culture, arts and leisure committe

Belfast Telegraph


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