David Cameron meets Sinn Féin to discuss NI political deadlock
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness say meeting with British prime minister ‘useful’
(Left - right) Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, former MP Michelle Gildernew, vice president Mary Lou McDonald and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness outside the Palace of Westminster in London on Tuesday. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have urged British prime minister David Cameron to provide Stormont with a “workable” budget in order to prevent the “imminent collapse” of the Assembly.
The Sinn Féin president and Deputy First Minister met Mr Cameron at Westminster on Tuesday evening to discuss the deadlock over welfare reform that is threatening the future of the Northern Executive and Assembly.
The meeting, which Sinn Fein only disclosed as taking place yesterday afternoon, lasted for over an hour with Mr McGuinness describing the talks as “useful”. TD Mary Lou McDonald and former MP Michelle Gildernew also attended.
“There were no signs however of any imminent end to the stalemate. I believe that David Cameron can be in no doubt about the seriousness of the crisis we are facing,” said Mr McGuinness after the meeting. “The political structures created by the Good Friday Agreement are at the point of imminent collapse due to the British government’s austerity agenda.”
Mr McGuinness said London must provide the Executive with a “workable” budget.
“The British government needs to accept the special circumstances of the North, as a society coming out of conflict, which lasted for almost 30 years,” he said. “If we are to deliver for citizens, consolidate and build on the peace, create a peace dividend, which is tangible in deprived communities which suffered most as a result of the conflict, then the Executive needs the tools and the resources to address these deep-seated issues.”
Ahead of the meeting the former DUP finance Minister Sammy Wilson said that the latest British welfare proposals “probably spells the end of the Northern Ireland Assembly”.
Sinn Féin has already set its face against previous welfare changes that would create a household benefits cap of £26,000. But in his latest proposals British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne plans to bring down that cap to £20,000 for households outside London.
With Sinn Féin likely to be even more firmly opposed to these changes, Mr Wilson during debate of the British welfare reform and work bill in the House of Commons on Monday night expressed pessimism about the prospects of safeguarding the Assembly.
He was largely supported on Tuesday by the current DUP finance Minister Arlene Foster. In late June her so-called “fantasy” Stormont budget was passed notwithstanding that in the autumn it will face what she described as an “unsustainable” shortfall of £600 million.
Assembly members went ahead with that budget in the hope that before the crisis point was reached the impasse over Sinn Féin and the SDLP’s opposition to welfare reform could be resolved.
Ms Foster was also in pessimistic mood on Tuesday saying welfare reform “has to be dealt with one way or the other or the Assembly and Executive ceases to exist”.
If that did not happen, she added, then the British government should take over responsibility for welfare from the Northern Executive - a move that Sinn Féin also opposes.
“If the parties can’t agree, and there doesn’t seem to be any positive moves in that direction, then we would say very clearly that Westminster needs to step in and take the legislation and deal with it themselves,” added Ms Foster.