Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has said that the publication of amendments for next week’s Welfare Reform debate has confirmed that Sinn Fein’s professed opposition was based on nothing but rhetoric.
Roy Beggs, who this week was appointed as the Ulster Unionist Party’s new Social Development Spokesperson, said;
“The Ulster Unionist Party has always acknowledged that a reformed welfare system, slightly modified for Northern Ireland, was required and that every penny paid in fines was a penny squandered. Sinn Fein’s opposition to the Bill has now been confirmed to have been solely for the optics, yet that shouldn’t come as a surprise from a Party that claimed to fight cuts; after four consecutive years of their own Ministers implementing them.
“A list of 78 proposed amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill has now been published. Sinn Fein has opted not to propose any changes to the Bill, aside from supporting those that had already been agreed by the Executive Parties and what was discussed at the Stormont House talks.
“In April 2013 the Ulster Unionists were the first, and until this week remained the only Party, to have formally tabled our preferred changes to the Bill. In the subsequent months the Social Development Minister proposed a series of mitigation measures, reflecting heavily what we were calling for in our amendments. Nevertheless an impasse followed as Sinn Fein refused to reveal their position.
“As a direct result of Sinn Fein’s obstruction, the Executive’s failure to agree a Bill has already cost public services £100m in the form of penalties from Westminster. Had that money been available then it could have been redirected to Health Service to try to alleviate the worst impacts of the mismanagement of the budget, including in-year clawbacks. Sinn Fein were claiming to stand up for vulnerable people but in reality the only thing they were achieving was the widespread reduction of health services – including the closure of minor injury units, the sacking of agency staff and the closure of beds.
“The Ulster Unionist Party proposed measures that were based on ensuring some of Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances, including our poor rates of mental health and the needs of troubles related victims, were reflected in the legislation. Most of our demands were agreed to by the Minister and we later withdrew several of our amendments. We still have a small number of issues outstanding which we are confident the Assembly will agree to next week; not least ensuring that Northern Ireland runs the UK’s first and only pilot scheme for the proposed changeover from DLA to the new Personal Independence Payments.”