Robinson accuses Sinn Féin of putting Republic before NI

McGuinness says First Minister ‘crossed the line’ in claiming a deal was done on welfare reform

First Minister Peter Robinson claims that the interests of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland are regarded as subservient to their interests in the Dáil.  Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

First Minister Peter Robinson claims that the interests of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland are regarded as subservient to their interests in the Dáil. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 01:00

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson has accused Sinn F

éin of refusing to move on welfare reform in the North because it has placed its electoral interests in the Republic ahead of its interests in Northern Ireland.

He claimed there were elements within Sinn Féin prepared to accept the British government’s welfare reform proposals but that an agreement he thrashed out with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last May was vetoed by party members in Dublin.

“The interests of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland are regarded as subservient to their interests in the Dáil,” Mr Robinson said in a briefing with The Irish Times and other media.

He said the DUP’s relationship with Sinn Féin had “got much worse since Sinn Féin increased its representation in the South”, adding: “It’s the Dáil team that drives it now.”

While welfare reform is being introduced in Britain, the Executive has not adopted the new system because of Sinn Féin and SDLP opposition. London argues the new streamlined welfare system is fairer and will create greater incentives for people on welfare to return to work.

All-island ambitions
It is estimated that payments to two-thirds of welfare recipients in Northern Ireland would remain the same or increase while one-third would see their payments reduced.

Adopting the welfare bill creates problems for Sinn Féin’s all-island ambitions as opposing parties in the Republic would accuse it of campaigning against austerity in the South while supporting it in the North. It is this issue which led Mr Robinson to accuse Sinn Féin of pursuing a Southern agenda.

The issue creates real difficulties for Sinn Féin as the British government has insisted the Northern Executive would face penalties resulting in a £1 billion (€1.2 billion) reduction in its block grant from the British treasury over the next five years which could particularly hit high-spending departments such as Health and Education run by Sinn Féin Ministers.

Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness accused Mr Robinson of “crossing the line” in claiming a deal was done with him last May on welfare reform. He said Mr Robinson’s account was untrue.

“We are the only party standing up for the poor and the vulnerable from all communities on the issue of welfare cuts,” he added.