Belfast Telegraph

Stormont crisis: Thanks to Sinn Fein and elements of SDLP we have the worst of all outcomes, says DUP's Arlene Foster

By Arlene Foster

Today the Executive will discuss the financial consequences of Sinn Fein and the SDLP's rejection of welfare reform. As a consequence of that decision, we are facing into a £604m deficit in our budget.

Having voted in such an irresponsible, reckless and irrational way, it is up to Sinn Fein and SDLP ministers to tell us how we can deal with this deficit, having rejected the money on offer as part of the Stormont House arrangements.

Having buried their heads in the sand, they must table a credible plan. I want those ministers who ignored my warnings on Tuesday to table their solutions to the black hole in our budget.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP broke the terms of the Stormont House Agreement, therefore the onus now rests with them to provide a remedy for our deficit.

They walked away from the additional spending power as part of the Stormont House deal.

I don't want to hear ministers saying: "We must stand together and go to Westminster for more money."

That's not an answer to the immediate issue of a huge deficit. It is a desperate answer from those who have no ideas.

Indeed, why would Westminster do any further deals involving those parties? Only last December a deal was negotiated and signed, which delivered an additional £2bn for Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have broken their word and done a U-turn on what was agreed - to the detriment of everyone in Northern Ireland.

Today's Executive meeting is a time for straight talking. It is time for the SDLP and Sinn Fein to step up and deal with the consequences of their actions.

I will be surprised if they table a realistic alternative as they failed to produce any amendments to the welfare proposals put forward by my colleague Mervyn Storey.

In advance of the welfare debate, the First Minister challenged them to produce a legally competent, financially and operationally viable amendment to the DSD Minister's Bill and he would adopt it, but no party opposing the Bill produced such an amendment.

The cuts required to make the books balance are impossible. Making £604m savings in six months would require departments to make cuts so deep they would be felt by everyone.

The First Minister has rightly ruled out the DUP's support for such a scenario.

We will not be party to cuts that would decimate public services and endanger the safety of the public.

It is now time for Westminster to implement welfare reform.

It is hugely frustrating that the time, effort and work that went into securing significant concessions from the Government in relation to welfare have not been implemented by the Assembly.

We had the prospect of the best welfare measures anywhere throughout the United Kingdom, as well as access to enhanced spending power for the Executive, but through the ideological intransigence of Sinn Fein and elements of the SDLP we now have the worst of all outcomes.

Belfast Telegraph


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