Stability at risk in the North of Ireland after Welfare Reform Bill fails

Stability at risk in the North of Ireland after Welfare Reform Bill fails

POLITICAL stability in the North of Ireland is “hanging by a thread” after the region’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill failed to be passed in Stormont this week.

Concerned MP Ivan Lewis, Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, claimed the refusal to implement the welfare element of the Stormont House Agreement – as agreed in heated talks held last December – now risked the financial and political future of the North.

"Following the failure to break the deadlock on welfare The Stormont House Agreement is hanging by a thread,” he said, after the bill failed during a Stormont debate held on Wednesday, May 26.

“Financial and political stability in Northern Ireland are at risk and public confidence in the political process has once again been badly damaged,” he added.

The failure came after the Sinn Féin and SDLP parties made a petition of concern regarding the proposed legislation – a blocking device that requires cross-community support for a bill.

Although a majority of 58 assembly members voted in favour and 39 voted against the implementation of benefit changes that have been introduced in the rest of Britain, the law could not be passed as it did not win the support of a majority of both nationalists and unionist members in the House.

Regarding the petition, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "This is a time when the [Stormont] executive parties need to stand together to defend our public services, particularly in terms of health, education and welfare."

Back in Westminster Mr Lewis claimed the move may have made things worse for the economic and political situation in the North.

"The uncertainty created by Tory welfare plans has made a challenging situation worse,” he claimed, “however, all Northern Ireland's parties have to accept responsibility for making the difficult choices necessary to set a viable budget as a matter of urgency.”

He added: "We hope even at this late stage the Northern Ireland parties, supported by the UK Government and where appropriate the Irish Government, will find a way to rescue the agreement and avert a grave political crisis."