Ulster Unionist Social Development spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA, has warned Sinn Fein that they will need to accept responsibility for the ensuing months of swingeing cuts that could now impact every Executive Department – including Health and Education.
Roy Beggs said: “Sinn Fein’s opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill, aside from being a major somersault of their position as recently as February, has now firmly put the Assembly’s finances in a downward spiral.
“By Sinn Fein blocking the Welfare Bill the Executive not only has to continue to pay over £2m a week in penalties, but now it is unlikely to secure the borrowing required for the Voluntary Exit Scheme. Departments right across the Executive were relying on the VES to deliver savings in the anticipation that it would at least try to help balance their respective budgets.
“It now appears quite likely that Executive Ministers will simply not be able to work with the Budgets they have been left with and it is very likely an unelected senior civil servant will take over allocating budgets.
“By blocking the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Bill Sinn Fein now have to choose between accepting stringent Departmental cuts, collapsing the institutions, or the Westminster Government implementing the reforms either with or without the protections that had previously been secured. This ridiculous situation is indicative of the increasingly unhinged philosophy within Sinn Fein.
“The Ulster Unionist Party long had concerns with aspects of the proposed reforms, but we worked with disability groups, welfare experts and other political Parties to secure safeguards, whilst at the same time ensuring the new welfare system incentivised employment. It is imperative if we are to break the cycle in some families of welfare dependency, that people are better off in employment than on benefits.
“Sinn Fein’s latest position, after initially fully endorsing the welfare deal last December, now means it is almost inevitable the Conservative Party will implement the reforms here. “Their actions demonstrate to the people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that they are not prepared to take the difficult decisions required to govern.”