MLAs vote against delaying welfare debate

The Legislative Consent Motion tabled by Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey was passed by 70 votes to 22, with the backing of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

An extended debate on whether to roll out the reforms had been taking place throughout Wednesday afternoon.

It came after a motion to delay it failed.

A specially-convened sitting took place at Stormont, following the completion of the new agreement on Tuesday.

Social Development Minister Meryn Storey brought forward a motion to allow Westminster Parliament to legislate on welfare reform.

However the TUV leader, Jim Allister, proposed delaying the debate because he said some MLAs have not seen the bill.

The suggestion was supported by the SDLP, Alliance and UUP – while Mr Storey argued it must go ahead to allow the legislation time to go through Westminster.

A vote took place on the proposal, however it was defeated by 58 votes to 33, allowing the debate to take place.

Opening the debate, the DUP minister said the proposals represent the most practical way of bringing welfare changes forward.

Meryn Storey added: “I am therefore asking the Assembly to pass this legislative consent motion, which will enable us to reform the welfare system whilst helping the most vulnerable and those hard working families who would lose their tax credits under the plans announced by the chancellor.”

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said Stormont acted as a “bulwark” against austerity.

“I think what is being proposed and agreed in part of this implementation plan gives us protection measures better than exist anywhere on these islands for people who are struggling,” he said.

However the SDLP deputy leader Fearghal McKinney accused Sinn Fein of a “U-turn” on welfare.

“We are being asked to hand over to the Tories – or ‘Thatcher’s children’ as Martin McGuinness likes to call it – decisions on legislating on welfare,” he said.

“Only a matter of weeks ago Sinn Féin would have described this a huge serious mistake but now Sinn Féin are doing Tory austerity, and in spades.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said: “Maybe they don’t want any fingerprints (on it), but in passing it over to Westminster you are passing responsibility elsewhere and you have responsibility for taking that decision.”

“To pass this over to Westminster is a clear sign of a lack of political maturity”

Roy Beggs

Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said: “Unless we move forward on this today, we move back into the financial crisis we have been in for some time.”

It comes after the five main Northern Ireland parties announced on Tuesday that a deal had been reached to save the power-sharing institutions, after 10 weeks of talks.

The agreement, called ‘A Fresh Start: the Stormont House Agreement Plan’, aims to resolve a number of long-standing budgetary issues.

It provides around £500m to be allocated from Westminster to assist with tackling “issues unique to Northern Ireland”.

It will also pave the way for the devolution of corporation tax powers, with a reduction to 12.5% expected by April 2018.

The deal also looks at the way forward on paramilitarism.

The deal was welcomed by the London and Dublin administrations and by the United States, with US Secretary John Kerry promising continued political support for the peace process.

It is backed by the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, while the SDLP, Alliance and UUP have said they will take time to look over it.

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