Belfast Telegraph

Welfare reform crisis: Electorate deserves better from Sinn Fein

By Liam Clarke

What was said at the Sinn Fein ard comhairle (central committee) meeting on Sunday? It is hard to read what is happening in Sinn Fein unless they tell you, but Martin McGuinness did not look a happy man.

Unionists believe he was forced into his welfare reform U-turn, though Sinn Fein deny this. Mr McGuinness had, the DUP says, signed up to the deal last year but was overruled by the ard comhairle in general and Gerry Adams in particular. Sinn Fein says that it is no secret Mr Adams leads the party and that all important decisions have to go to the ard comhairle to be taken on an all-Ireland basis.

There have been a few resignations from Sinn Fein's backroom team in Northern Ireland, possibly over this issue.

The party's problem is that it is in opposition in the south, making all the promises that opposition parties make and saying they are the Irish Syriza. Up north it is in government with DUP, while the Tories hold the purse strings. In government its primary duty is to keep things happening, or if it can't govern, go into opposition.

Instead Sinn Fein held up welfare reform for years, before appearing to agree. Then Mr McGuinness was pushed out to scupper it all just days after telling his party's conference how well things were going in the north and how his party had protected claimants.

Convincing the Republic's voters that Sinn Fein won't renege on opposition pledges is part of the picture. But where does it leave Northern Ireland?

It leaves us hundreds of millions in debt and climbing. It follows a period of dysfunctional government when trust levels between the parties, but especially the two big ones, plummeted. There were rows over commemorations, parades, the past and the Maze. Everything was the last straw, everything was worth dying in a ditch over.

A government can't work like that and if it falls apart no party wins the blame game.

The likely outcome is that there will be no agreement next week. Ms Villiers intends going through the scheme in detail, not topping up the money.

So the election will come and the new government will have to tackle the problem of either giving Sinn Fein what it wants or seeing power-sharing go belly-up. Voters deserve better than this sort of brinkmanship.​

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