Belfast Telegraph

Welfare warning must be heeded

Editor's Viewpoint

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton could not be more stark in his warning of the consequences of the new row on welfare reform. Failure to proceed on the basis of the Stormont House Agreement would leave Northern Ireland with a £500m black hole in its budget, the end to devolved power-sharing and the running of the country put in the hands of senior civil servants.

The impact on the public would be immense. Health services would be affected meaning longer queues for treatment.

Improvements to schools would be put on the long finger and more and more children would have to sit in draughty classrooms.

Roads services would diminish and the justice budget and investment in the private sector would be hit halting the already slow economic improvement.

As well, the planned redundancies in the civil service and the public sector would have to be scrapped as there would be no money to foot the bill. The public at large is puzzled how Sinn Fein, a party of government, could put so much in jeopardy when it must know that the finances to meet its demands on welfare reform are simply not there in the first place.

Essentially the party wants all existing benefits claimants and all future ones to be protected against the welfare reforms which will apply in other parts of the UK.

What every other party accepts was agreed during the Stormont House talks is a significant mitigation of the reforms for existing claimants. But it would be folly of the utmost kind to agree a blank cheque to cover all future claimants. In his article in this newspaper today Mr Hamilton sets out in some detail what agreeing to the Sinn Fein demands would mean. His is a compelling argument.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is comparatively short on detail in support of his argument that the DUP has attempted to hoodwink Sinn Fein on this issue.

However, he does make a serious charge that crucial financial papers were withheld from his party and some figures deflated. What those papers are, when they were withheld and by whom, are critical questions in relation to the debate. It remains for Sinn Fein to support that charge.

But whatever the substance of the claims and counter-claims which have flown between the parties, it is undeniable that Sinn Fein's vision for helping benefits claimants would only put more people out of work and create greater hardship for those in employment.

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