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£30m to break impasse: Two-pronged plan aims to save Stormont from ruin

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First Minister Peter Robinson has unveiled a £30m two-pronged plan to help resolve the stalemate over welfare reform which threatens the future of Stormont

First Minister Peter Robinson has unveiled a £30m two-pronged plan to help resolve the stalemate over welfare reform which threatens the future of Stormont

First Minister Peter Robinson has unveiled a £30m two-pronged plan to help resolve the stalemate over welfare reform which threatens the future of Stormont

First Minister Peter Robinson has unveiled a £30m two-pronged plan to help resolve the stalemate over welfare reform which threatens the future of Stormont.

But the new funding proposals designed to ameliorate the potential worst impacts of benefits changes are unlikely to go far enough to persuade Sinn Fein to sign up for implementation.

The ideas involved a £27m annual fund to help people with high disability levels hit by the loss of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and a further £3m cushion against so-called 'bedroom tax'.

The money comes out of a £30m contingency fund already set up to help cushion people as the welfare reforms were introduced.

A DUP delegation presented the package at a private meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers on the first day of renewed inter-party talks on Thursday.

Mr Robinson last night reiterated his warning that failure to reach agreement on welfare – the main issue when parties return to the talks table next Wednesday – would be "disastrous."

Accusing SF of refusing to tackle the issue because of its aim to be in the next Irish government, he said: "Inflicting pain on those for whom society should be caring, in order to gain electoral advantage in another jurisdiction, would be obscene, cynical and immoral. Welfare reform has a greater potential than any issue since devolution was restored in 2007 to lead to the collapse of the Stormont Executive."

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Former Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland negotiated a number of concessions from the UK-system, including more regular payments, and the Executive had provisionally arranged an opt-out on the 'bedroom tax' which would have cost around £17m a year.

The DUP leader argued funding would be used to meet the cost of future tenants allocated homes that are under-occupied. "This would be in addition to the measures already provisionally agreed for existing tenants. It is estimated that this would cost an additional £3m per annum," he said.

"With these actions, the choice now becomes one of operating our own enhanced style of welfare reform which protects the most vulnerable, or refusing to budge while penalties and costs are deducted from our budget causing catastrophic damage to our public services.

"Every day the failure to resolve this issue undermines the public's confidence in devolution, the ability to deliver public services and sees a deterioration in relationships between the parties. It is therefore essential that this issue is not only resolved - but resolved quickly." There was no immediate response from SF.

Factfile

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been at loggerheads over welfare reform for more than a year, with SF and the SDLP arguing the Stormont parties should unite to demand more concessions from the Government. Failure to implement the changes has resulted in £87m being taken from NI's Block Grant with another £120m due next year.


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