Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein urged to fulfil pledge

David Cameron has urged Sinn Fein to do what it signed up for in the Stormont House Agreement after powersharing arrangements in Northern Ireland were plunged into a fresh crisis by a new stand-off.

The republican party is refusing to implement welfare reforms designed to reduce the cost of payments after accusing its main powersharing partners in Belfast, the Democratic Unionists, of displaying bad faith.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said she is "hugely disappointed" at Sinn Fein's dramatic withdrawal of support for the legislation, which it believes would hurt the most vulnerable through benefit cuts, just hours before a final vote on the Bill at Stormont.

The Prime Minister said: "What matters is now implementing the Stormont agreement, and everyone should do what they signed up to do in that agreement, Sinn Fein included, and I know that Ms Villiers is working very hard to try to make sure everyone fulfils their pledges."

The row has forced Stormont into a new crisis as it holds up the devolution of further powers including corporation tax on business profits from London to Belfast and threatens the budget to run public services.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "My focus is delivery for children with disabilities and the vulnerable. Talks which took place in Stormont on Monday continue here in New York."

He and First Minister Peter Robinson are on a short US business trip.

Ms Villiers warned that if the Stormont House Agreement was jeopardised, it could plunge the country back into the budgetary crisis the parties were grappling with last year.

She said she hoped to get Northern Ireland party leaders together soon.

"I believe the change of mind by Sinn Fein is unhelpful and hugely disappointing but, as I have said, the task now is for the Northern Ireland executive parties to work to continue with efforts to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

"The Stormont House Agreement will not be reopened. We do need to press ahead with implementation. The corporation tax question is difficult. It is expressly linked with resolution of welfare reform."

She said there was no question that welfare reform must be resolved and the ministerial Executive at Stormont should fulfil its obligations under the agreement before the provisions of the corporation tax legislation could commence.

"But in the interim the Government is proposing to continue with the legislation to complete its parliamentary progress because we are determined to implement the agreement fully and fairly.

"Let me be very clear, Northern Ireland will not get these devolved powers until the Stormont House Agreement is implemented."

The shock welfare announcement by Mr McGuinness earlier this week has triggered another bitter row between Sinn Fein and the DUP - with both trading accusations of bad faith.

The argument centres on the terms of executive-funded mitigation schemes designed to support those benefit claimants set to lose out when the UK Government's long-delayed welfare reforms are rolled out in the region.

Mr McGuinness has said more than £200 million extra is needed from London to cover a funding shortfall. Ms Villiers has argued it would be unfair to the rest of the UK to have a more expensive benefits system in Northern Ireland.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Sinn Fein's actions in reneging on the agreement had left people "stunned, bewildered and indeed angry".

He said in the Commons: "It is very clear that Sinn Fein are putting their own narrow self party interest ahead of vulnerable people and the entire community in Northern Ireland.

"The responsibility for the current crisis lies squarely with Sinn Fein who are reneging on their commitments clearly made and openly expressed in the Stormont House Agreement."

The Irish Government joined the British Government in negotiating aspects of the Stormont House Agreement.

Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan said: "The success of the Agreement is contingent on the faithful implementation of all its provisions. People need to get back around the table and to build on the good work that has already been done towards the Agreement's implementation over the past two months.

"The First and Deputy First Minister have shown leadership in that regard. I hope that they can now resolve the current impasse on welfare and maintain the forward momentum of the Stormont House Agreement."

Sinn Fein Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy said his party made it absolutely clear, privately and publicly, that the agreement was to provide full protection for current and future claimants of benefits under the control of the Executive.

"The protection of existing and future claimants was the basis on which Sinn Fein endorsed the Welfare Bill.

"However, three weeks ago the DUP then attempted to roll back from the commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement by attempting to limit protections to existing claimants only.

"This is a clear example of DUP bad faith as these documents plainly demonstrate.

"We stressed that any movement away from full protection for current and new claimants would not be agreed by Sinn Fein."

He claimed key documents were withheld from the republican party during the negotiations.

"We were committed to finding a solution but despite repeated attempts to arrange a meeting between Sinn Fein and the DUP from March 6, the DUP did not make themselves available and in fact failed to turn up.

"In face of these blatant displays of bad faith and in order to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable Sinn Fein submitted a petition of concern and the Bill had been withdrawn."

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