Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Government must deliver help it promised Stormont

Welfare cuts are just the latest assault on the Assembly's finances. The Executive won't allow the attacks to continue, says Martin McGuinness

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

A number of weeks ago, Peter Robinson and myself met with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in Downing Street. It was one of only a handful of meetings that have taken place since the Tory/Liberal Democrats coalition came into power.

Throughout their time in Government, they have not been as engaged as they should have been in the peace process and have undermined the work of the Executive.

They have reneged on the peace dividend, they cut the block grant, refused to devolve powers on corporation tax and are now proposing to implement significant welfare cuts.

At the centre of all of this is a failure to understand what is required in a society moving out of conflict. What is urgently needed is an investment package to stimulate the economy.

That is why all the parties ensured that a key outcome from the negotiations at St Andrews, which led to the establishment of the current Executive and Assembly, was a commitment from the then British Government for a significant peace dividend. This was a negotiation presided over by both governments.

This was a recognition that society in the north was emerging from conflict and had suffered from decades of under-investment during direct rule, particularly in our infrastructure.

One of the first actions of the current British Government was to renege on this commitment.

By this action, it removed from the Executive the ability to deliver a capital investment programme in key infrastructural projects, which would have had the dual effect of providing much-needed employment in the construction industry and bringing our roads, hospitals and schools up to the necessary standard.

The next action of the British Government was to cut the block grant. Within the fiscal constraints of the Executive, collectively we managed to raise some additional revenue and tried to offset the worst effects of the cut to the block grant. But this approach was clearly stretching our finances to the limit.

Now, to compound this difficult situation, the British Government are seeking to impose welfare cuts under the guise of reform. This will, in effect, remove millions of pounds from the economy in the north.

I find the targeting of the most vulnerable and hard-working, low-income families by these cuts as unacceptable. I have told the British Prime Minister this very directly.

Having invested so much in this process and in these institutions, I am frustrated that the British Government is undermining our work to this extent.

People rightly expect the Executive to try to deliver; however, it seems the British Government is intent on trying to get us to operate with our hands tied behind our backs.

Last week, we met the British Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, to discuss an economic package for the Executive. It was not a good meeting and, in many ways, mirrored our previous discussions with David Cameron.

This cannot continue. The Executive simply cannot sustain attack after attack from the British Government undermining its ability to work effectively and deliver for the community.

It is my view that the Executive cannot sustain these three attacks on our finances.

Put simply, the British Government needs to think again.

They need to return to the commitments they have made. They need to recognise the unique situation the Executive is in and the political reality that we will not countenance the continuation of this agenda, nor acquiesce to it.

The British Government needs to re-engage with the parties in the Executive in the coming days.

They need to come to the table with a sensible economic package, which will allow progress to be made.

We do not want, or expect, blank cheques. But what we do demand is that ability to be allowed to deliver on the basis which was previously agreed.

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