Belfast Telegraph

Welfare row could sink Northern Ireland yet

By Brian Rowan

One tweet prompted another - a thinking out after the Westminster election. The first, by the SDLP's Claire Hanna, read: "Relieved SDLP held seats & some good campaigns in targets but overall vote down again & we need to critically examine why before Assembly 15."

Assembly election in 2015?, Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney asked. The election, of course, is scheduled not this year, but next.

Then, Sinn Fein's one-time publicity director Danny Morrison joined in.

"Sorry, Raymond. She's right. I can't see a way through. Assembly collapse likely and elections."

Ms Hanna had made a mistake. "I definitely meant 16," she told me. But her tweet brought that response from Morrison; brought his thinking out into the Twittersphere.

He thinks the Assembly is still in danger in that stand-off over welfare reform. "There is a massive failure to reach an understanding about what the Stormont House Agreement meant," he said.

John Loughran, a Sinn Fein candidate in the last council elections, also joined in that Twitter conversation a few days ago.

"We're on an ideological collision course on welfare cuts - question now is one of timing?"

Neither Loughran nor Morrison are at the decision-making centre of Sinn Fein at Stormont, but their thoughts give us an idea of mood.

How is the welfare reform circle squared? That question posed by Morrison remains the question.

How is Stormont politics lifted out of the mud in which it is stuck? And what are the implications of yet more cuts in the political pipeline?

Post-election, we have heard Secretary of State Theresa Villiers speaking on the need to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

But what pages of that agreement? And what parties are on what page? Agreements reached at the House and Castle at Stormont have become disagreements. And that political space is worth watching.

Is Morrison reading things correctly? The latest Twitter debate started with Ms Hanna typing 15, but meaning 16. But Morrison meant what he typed - again posing a question about how you get Stormont and welfare to work.

Brian Rowan is a political journalist and commentator

Belfast Telegraph


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