Peter Robinson: MLAs must stick to the deal on welfare reform

MLAs must “stick to the deal” on welfare reform, the First Minister warned Stormont yesterday.

Peter Robinson was responding to criticism for his party’s decision to trigger a contentious voting mechanism to veto about 50 amendments to the draft Welfare Reform Bill.

He repeated his warning the Assembly would have collapsed without December’s Stormont House deal.

The DUP leader claimed SDLP and Ulster Unionist amendments, tabled during the resumption of the legislative process yesterday, were attempts to undermine the terms of the pre-Christmas deal.

Mr Robinson said: “If people genuinely want to move forward then it is important that this legislation goes through. It’s important parties uphold the agreements all of us reached.”

The consideration stage of the Bill is being heard almost two-and-a-half years after the legislation last came to the floor of the chamber.

Backed by the DUP and Sinn Fein, there is little prospect it will not pass through the Assembly. But the debate could stretch into today as a raft of amendments have been tabled.

The DUP has tabled a petition of concern mechanism against all but two of the amendments proposed by rival parties, while it will back amendments tabled by the DUP minister responsible for the legislation.

The use of the petition mechanism means the affected amendments can only be approved if a majority of unionist and a majority of nationalist MLAs back them.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

With the DUP the biggest unionist party, it essentially means the party is blocking all those proposed changes.

UUP Assembly member Roy Beggs branded the DUP’s use of the petition of concern as “shameful”.

He added: “They have displayed their undemocratic nature. The other country which springs to mind with the word democratic in their name was the Democratic Republic of East Germany – a totalitarian state.”

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood accused the DUP of trying to run a “coach and horses” through the amendments.

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said SDLP members were defying party leader Alasdair McDonnell by tabling the amendments.

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