Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Welfare row: Public will suffer in this dangerous political game

The power-sharing administration at Stormont
The power-sharing administration at Stormont

The row at Stormont over welfare reform drags on, but in practical terms it is the public who will bear the brunt of the necessary cuts if agreement is not reached soon.

The main parties predictably blame each other, but Sinn Fein in particular should spend this weekend thinking about the untenable position it has adopted.

By not co-operating on welfare reform it is perpetuating the deadlock, and unless it is willing to give ground, we may well see the collapse of Stormont. Senior members of the DUP, and others, have repeatedly warned of the financial implications on all sides if an agreement on welfare reform is not reached.

It is the height of irresponsibility for members of Sinn Fein metaphorically – and perhaps literally – to place their fingers in their ears and to pretend not to listen.

Sinn Fein has yet to come forward with a convincing plan on how to save money elsewhere, and by not facing up to the financial challenges, the party is making Northern Ireland virtually ungovernable. Admittedly it will not be easy to square the financial circle, but the onus is on Sinn Fein to produce a plan to help everyone to get out of the financial mess which we are in.

The tough measures in the welfare reform programme are not a devolved issue, and therefore all Stormont politicians must face up to their responsibilities.

The new measures have been pushed through by a Westminster administration, and many here voted in the Westminster elections.

People in Northern Ireland may not like the Coalition Government's plan for welfare reform, but the blunt truth is that the Treasury in London has spent more money per capita on Northern Ireland over the years than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Sinn Fein did not seem to object to the influx of funding in the good times, so it cannot have it both ways, as it usually tries to do. In the tough times it also need to face reality and to stop this dangerous political brinkmanship.

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