SINN Féin’s decision to block welfare reform proposals in the North threatens political stability across the region, claims Labour's Shadow NI Secretary Ivan Lewis.
Responding to the announcement by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness this week - that the party will oppose the welfare reform bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly – Mr Lewis said: “Sinn Féin’s decision to withdraw their support for the welfare reform bill is a very serious development which threatens political stability in Northern Ireland.”
He added: “It is essential the UK and Irish Governments now convene urgent all-party talks to salvage the Stormont House and Stormont Castle agreements.”
Mr McGuinness revealed his party’s intention to block the passage of the bill through the assembly on Monday (March 9).
He claimed agreements reached with their power sharing partners, in order to implement the recommendations of the Stormont House Agreement of December 2014, had been reneged upon by the Democratic Unionist Party.
“Since the turn of the year Sinn Féin has engaged proactively and positively with the Party Leaders’ group to ensure the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement,” he said.
“At Stormont House the five parties agreed a series of measures to protect the vulnerable and safeguard current and future welfare claimants under the control of the executive.
“However, the DUP have acted in bad faith and are now reneging on their commitments to protect the most vulnerable. It is their intention to provide only partial protection to current recipients of benefit and no protection whatsoever for future claimants.”
Mr McGuinness went on to accuse the DUP of “stripping” benefits from some of the most vulnerable groups currently living in the North, adding: “That is totally unacceptable. If the DUP want to strip benefits from children with disabilities, from adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick; or push children further into poverty, then they need to explain and justify that. Sinn Féin certainly will not accept that approach.”
DUP leader Peter Robinson has since called Sinn Féin's accusations "dishonourable and ham-fisted", while Prime Minister David Cameron claims the situation is “deeply concerning”.
The standoff has left members of the Labour party concerned that confidence in the governance of the North will now be compromised.
“Labour has always supported Northern Ireland’s right not to implement some pernicious elements of Tory welfare policy, such as the bedroom tax, but we have been equally clear that rejecting the need for any welfare reform would be irresponsible,” Mr Lewis added this week.
“Following a period of renewed optimism, [Sinn Féin’s] news will once again undermine public confidence in Northern Ireland's political system.”