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We won't be allowed to overplay our hand at Westminster

By Liam Clarke

Published 17/04/2015

Will the unionist pact work and could post-electoral horse-trading with London solve our problems?

To a limited degree Sinn Fein must be hoping that MPs who do take their seats do have some influence. The republican party won't want to lose seats, and probably won't anyway. Yet getting more money from Britain is the way in which the Assembly is most likely to survive.

Less than a week ago Alex Maskey, a senior Sinn Fein negotiator, ruled out doing a deal on Welfare reform before the election results were in. "At this present time, I couldn't give great hope as to the sustainability of the political institutions, because, if it requires an agreement on the basis of the welfare reform deal we are getting at present from Westminster, then a deal is not on offer," he stated.

This week Niall O Donghaile told a hustings event in Willowfield Parish Church that Sinn Fein had also secured £700m in funding from the British Government. He added that this had turned out to be inadequate so they would need to get more.

If the DUP and other Northern Ireland MPs have enough votes to sustain a minority government for five years then they might get something, but it would be through gritted teeth.

Both main British parties have made it clear that they intend cutting welfare further, £3bn in the case of Labour, £12bn from the Tories. Both have made it clear that if we want a more generous system then we can pay for it ourselves.

Changing that would be a major crisis and there would be complaints from other regions if they don't get the same. Regions, that is, where British ministers and MPs are elected. The Scottish and Welsh legislatures would also be watching so bailing us out for busting our welfare budget could turn out to be an unexpectedly expensive decision.

Failing to reach a deal would also put the devolution of corporation tax, which can't be subsidised from Westminster, in jeopardy and would lead to the removal of £200m in Government loans.

That would in turn put intolerable strains on Stormont.

We can get something out of a hung parliament but we have to be realistic. We won't be able to call the shots.

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