Welfare reform fails in Assembly

Despite the majority of MLAs voting in favour of the bill, a petition of concern lodged by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Green Party’s Steven Agnew meant it failed to receive cross-community support.

This puts into doubt the viability of the power-sharing institutions, which are being hit by Treasury penalties for the non-implementation of the long-delayed proposed legislation.

Ms Villiers said: “The defeat of Welfare Bill leaves Executive finances in disarray. We all need to reflect carefully on the way forward.”

She described the fall of the Welfare Reform Bill as “a missed opportunity to replace a failed system with one that helps people into work and is fairer to taxpayers”.

The devolution of corporation tax powers and new structures to address the legacy of the Troubles could also be at risk, while jobs could be lost in the civil service.

Assembly members debated the bill for most of Tuesday.

The DUP had warned that blocking the bill meant a £600m gap in the Executive budget.

The party said almost £3bn in spending could be withdrawn if a budget is not agreed by next week.

“I firmly believe that the time for talking is now over,” Department of Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey said earlier.

“I believe that now is the time for decisions, for getting on with the implementation of reforms.”

“Unfortunately the fiscal realities for Northern Ireland is that we cannot afford a more expansive and expensive welfare system than the rest of the UK.”

Mervyn Storey

Welfare reform had been part of the Stormont House Agreement in December, however, Sinn Féin withdrew its support for the bill in March.

The party said it had concerns over protection for benefits claimants.

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the crisis had come about because of Tory cuts.

“The current crisis has come about solely through the actions of the British Government, it could only be resolved by the actions of the British Government,” he said.

“There is still time for the parties and the British Government to deliver a new budget that delivers.”

Dolores Kelly of the SDLP said it’s not too late to sort out the welfare issue and urged all the parties to get back round the table.

She added: “We are fed up with the side deals and the bad grace that often exists between Sinn Féin and the DUP and that we all have to suffer from.”

Alliance leader David Ford argued the Stormont House Agreement struck a balance between maintaining public services and supporting those receiving benefits.

He said: “It is great to be in government at a time of expanding finances, at a time of nice opportunities, at a time when ministers can appear in front of cameras and smile at things but the reality of government is we need to learn to take difficult decisions to deal with difficult hands when we are played them at difficult times and to be realistic and accept those.

“And, in that respect, it does seem to me that Sinn Féin and the SDLP have to prove they can be responsible around budgetary matters in difficult times.”

“It is the job of a responsible government to make those difficult decisions.”

David Ford

He added: “Powersharing requires compromise, it requires rising above narrow ideology, it requires reaching an accommodation, it means aspiring for the common good.

“That was what was required and that was what I think we achieved in Stormont House around welfare reforms and if we don’t now pass this bill then all that we achieved in the Stormont House Agreement potentially falls.

“Do members of the Assembly really want to see that?”

Meanwhile, Roy Beggs of the UUP said Northern Ireland would be the only part of the UK using the old benefits system if the bill isn’t approved.

He added: “Let’s be clear – there’s no money tree, there’s no going back asking for more money, we’ve been there lots of times over the past three years.

“If this bill is approved, the potential of further penalties and further unplanned departmental cuts will be averted.”

The impasse over welfare reform has led to concerns the Stormont institutions could collapse.

“At that stage we really are in unknown territory because quite simply we have run out of money,” UTV’s Political Editor Ken Reid said.

Republic of Ireland Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Irish Government has agreed to make “every possible effort” to encourage the Executive to reach an agreement over welfare reform.

The debate went ahead in the wake of DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson being hospitalised following a suspected heart attack. His condition is now stable.

Parliamentary reports show first speaker only - follow this lnk for the full transcription.
Articles may come from parliamentary reports, various public news feeds and Google News Search. Content is republished here for context. Copyright is respected and remains with the original author at all times. Original Article:http://www.u.tv/News/2015/05/26/Welfare-reform-debate-underway-at-Stormont-37924

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