Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson warns Sinn Fein to face up to tough decisions or leave the Executive

By David Young

Stormont's First Minister has challenged Sinn Fein to either face up to tough decisions or leave the Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive.

Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson issued the blunt ultimatum to his republican partners in government as a bitter political row over non-implementation of welfare reform intensified.

The devolved institutions in Belfast are under threat due to the failure to implement December's wide-ranging Stormont House Agreement - an impasse created by Sinn Fein and the SDLP's refusal to sign off on the welfare element of the deal.

Without introducing the UK government's changes to the benefits system in Northern Ireland, the rest of the Stormont House deal falls.

In the absence of a roll out of the agreement, the Executive will face a £600 million funding black hole many believe will bring the administration down.

While initially voicing support for the overall Stormont House Agreement, Sinn Fein later withdrew backing for the welfare reform section, claiming proposed Executive-funded top-up schemes for claimants were not as comprehensive as they envisaged.

The SDLP is also opposing the welfare reforms, but Sinn Fein's position is more crucial, as it has the electoral strength in the Assembly to make or break the Stormont House deal.

Mr Robinson's blistering attack on the republican party came after Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams warned that power-sharing was "hanging by a thread" due to a "Tory cuts agenda" and unionist willingness to implement it

The DUP leader claimed Mr Adams was "delusional".

"In spite of the publicly recorded facts showing beyond doubt or debate that Sinn Fein and the SDLP welshed on the Stormont House Agreement Gerry Adams is still attempting to not only avoid blame but gull his non-thinking adherents into believing it is 'those evil unionists who are to blame'," he said.

"Northern Ireland deserves better than this pathetic posturing and specious spinning. What we need is leadership from republicans and nationalists. They should stop looking over their shoulders at the anti-austerity cranks who advocate spending other people's money and accumulating debt for future generations.

"We are required under the devolution settlement to operate within the spending totals we are allocated. Of course everyone wants to have more funding and we should continue to ensure we get a fair deal taking into account our special circumstances but unless we are prepared to operate the devolution system we all agreed, then collapse is inevitable.

"If Sinn Fein is unable to do 'tough government' they should stand aside and let parties with the guts to govern do the job.

"The Sinn Fein strategy is washing the Assembly towards the rocks and nobody other than the Sinn Fein leadership is to blame.

"To blame anyone else for the fiasco his party has created and his failure to provide leadership is not only delusional but political dishonesty of the foulest kind."

The welfare deadlock has put the rest of the measures contained in the Stormont House deal between the five Executive parties and the British and Irish governments on hold.

Those include the devolution of corporation tax powers to Belfast, access from the Treasury to £2 billion of additional spending powers, a major civil service redundancy scheme and new institutions to deal with the thorny legacy of the Troubles.

In a weekly column for a newspaper in his former west Belfast constituency, Mr Adams, now a member of the Irish parliament for Co Louth, painted a bleak picture of Stormont's future.

"In the 17 years since it was achieved the (Good Friday) Agreement has faced many challenges but the determination of the British Tory government, and of the unionist parties, to implement swingeing austerity cuts represents the gravest threat yet to the political institutions," he wrote in the Andersonstown News.

Mr Adams claimed the DUP was failing to honour commitments it made on protecting social security and said the crisis would only get worse with expected further multi-billion spending cuts from the Government.

"Sinn Fein's position has been consistent and clear," he added. " We are totally opposed to the Tory cuts agenda. We are opposed to it in principle and in practice. Tory cuts and austerity are incompatible with democratic values. Sinn Fein cannot and will not be agents of cuts imposed on citizens in the north at the behest of millionaires in London.

"Specifically, the two governments (British and Irish) should implement those elements of the Stormont House Agreement that deal with the past and legacy issues. Victims and their families should not be prevented from achieving truth and closure because of the failure to reach agreement on other issues.

"At this eleventh hour I would urge civic society, the business, voluntary and community sector, the churches and trade union movement to play a full and positive role in defending citizens against austerity and in defending public services and democratic political institutions. The British Tories need to be persuaded to agree a realistic funding for the Executive, which delivers for citizens. Without a working budget this is not tenable."

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