Sinn Fein stance could cost us millions
A sense of crisis at Stormont is nothing new but this latest war of words and dire warnings about the future of the power-sharing institutions have come out of the blue. It is over an issue, welfare reform, that everyone thought had been settled at Christmas time by the signing of the Stormont House Agreement.
Indeed, at the weekend, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was proudly telling delegates at Sinn Fein's Ard Fheis how the party had protected the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland by negotiating safeguards to their benefits.
Little wonder then that Mr McGuinness' statement yesterday that his party would no longer be supporting the welfare reform legislation, and accusing the DUP of reneging on the reforms agreed in the Stormont House deal, was greeted with astonishment.
It is difficult to argue with the logic of First Minister Peter Robinson's article in this newspaper today, in which he says that Sinn Fein knew what the terms of the reforms were and that they have not changed.
Sinn Fein have created an air of crisis and threatened the stability of Stormont unnecessarily. They are partners in a coalition government and, if problems arise, they should be discussed and resolved, if possible, out of sight of the public eye.
This intemperate outburst by Mr McGuinness only reinforces public cynicism about politics here. Many people will believe that Sinn Fein is playing towards its audience in the Republic where it has positioned itself as the anti-austerity party.
If that proves to be the case, then it is party politicking of the worst kind. For blocking the welfare reform legislation will cost Northern Ireland more lost millions of pounds and block the introduction of corporation tax varying powers which everyone agrees would be valuable in the pursuit of inward investment.
Sinn Fein's economics also don't make sense in these days of austerity. Northern Ireland simply cannot afford to safeguard the benefits not only of existing claimants but also of future ones. As it is, investment in health, education, policing and other vital services is being jeopardised.
Relationships between Sinn Fein and the DUP have become so icy, Peter Robinson has pulled out of a joint visit with Martin McGuinness to meet President Obama on St Patrick's Day. How will that play with potential investors?