Tory welfare cuts Bill blocked by Sinn Féin and SDLP at Stormont
THE Welfare Reform Bill being pushed through Stormont by the Democratic Unionist Party – supported by the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance and other unionists – was blocked by a Petition of Concern tabled by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Green Party late on Tuesday night, 26 May, as An Phoblacht was going to print. The future of the Assembly and the Executive is uncertain.
MLAs voted 58-39 in favour of the Bill but the Petition of Concern takes precedence. A Petition of Concern insists that there must be “cross-community” support for a motion. This means that 60% of all members present must back the Bill and this must include at least 40% of nationalists and 40% of unionists.
Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the Assembly before the vote:
“The immediate difficulties we are facing into have been triggered by the DUP’s decision to bring forward a Welfare Bill to the Assembly which does not implement the protections agreed at Stormont House for children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.
“It appears that the DUP is responding to pressure and demands from the Tories in London. In my view, that is a major tactical error.”
He said the crisis is not of the making of the parties in the Executive.
“The crisis has been created by the austerity cuts agenda of a Tory administration in London which is attempting to decimate our public services and punish the most vulnerable people in society.
“Sinn Féin stood in the recent elections against Tory austerity and for social justice and equality. Our approach was mandated by over 176,000 voters, almost 25% of the popular vote.
“In contrast, the Tories received only 9,000 votes in the North, just over 1% of the vote.
“This is a party which doesn’t have a single Assembly or local council seat. They have no democratic mandate for their austerity policies in the North of Ireland.
“Yet they have already taken £1.5billion from the Executive’s block grant. And Prime Minister Cameron’s Cabinet of Tory millionaires have announced plans for further eye-watering cuts of £25billion to our public services and to welfare protections for people with disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.”
It has always been his view, he said, that the outstanding issues in the Welfare Bill can be resolved “but this requires political will, particularly on the part of the unionist parties” to protect the most vulnerable, including in unionist communities.
“Make no mistake about it – the biggest threat to our political institutions remains the ongoing Tory austerity agenda of cuts to our public services and the welfare state.
“We need an immediate negotiation with the British Government for a budget which protects our public services and for fiscal powers that give us control over our economy.
“We are not alone in this battle against austerity. The Scottish Executive has already requested a tripartite meeting of the representatives of the Scottish, Welsh and local Assemblies.
“We should be taking up this offer and developing a common position within the Executive and with the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies in opposition to Tory austerity.”
Martin McGuinness ended by saying:
“There is still time for the parties and the British Government to change tack and deliver a new budget that delivers for our public services, our economy and our people.
“If a choice has to be made to stand side by side with the Tories or stand up for the people here for our economy and public services, I know what side Sinn Féin will be on.”