David Ford criticises NI parties over stance on welfare reform

Adams says no conflict in SF being in power and sharing platform with striking workers

Alliance party leader David Ford said blame will lie with Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Green Party if the Stormont House Agreement “falls apart” over their stance on welfare reform in the North

Alliance party leader David Ford said blame will lie with Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Green Party if the Stormont House Agreement “falls apart” over their stance on welfare reform in the North

 

Alliance party leader David Ford said blame will lie with Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Green Party if the Stormont House Agreement “falls apart” over their stance on welfare reform in the North.

Mr Ford strongly criticised the Stormont parties at the Alliance annual conference on Saturday at the La Mon Hotel in Co Down.

Crisis talks are continuing between the DUP and Sinn Féin after the Welfare Reform Bill was blocked at the final stage by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Greens through the use of a petition of concern.

“Whoever is being more disingenuous, cynical or stupid, let me be absolutely clear where the blame will lie if this agreement falls apart over welfare reform,” Mr Ford said. “It will lie with every MLA who signed last week’s petition of concern - Sinn Féin, SDLP and Green party.

“Don’t let them get away with their claims that it’s all about protecting the vulnerable, because it’s not. It’s about protecting their own votes.

“We can’t protect vulnerable people if we have to take another £200 million or more out of public services to fund further adjustments to benefits.”

The Alliance leader, also the Justice Minister at Stormont, told delegates his party was focused on Stepping Forward for “everyone in Northern Ireland” and that the “constitutional position” was “not the defining issue of everyday lives” and then called for reform of political structures in the North.

“The truth is that we are saddled with structures at Stormont which make building a united community harder, not easier,” he added.

“There is too much emphasis on protection for sectional interests rather than the promotion of a shared future.”

He also told delegates he was confident East Belfast MP Naomi Long would be returned to Westminster, after winning the seat in 2010 which had previously been held by First Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Ford was critical of the DUP leader for suggesting his party would easily win the hotly contested seat with its candidate, former Belfast mayor Gavin Robinson, who is not related to the DUP leader.

Mr Ford said the Alliance party was proud to support equality for women and religious, racial and sexual minorities.

He also said his party was proud to treat flags with respect, respect the rule of law and uphold Parades Commission decisions following what he described as attempts by Peter Robinson to demonise Alliance as a “(union) flag-lowering, parade stopping, gay marriage supporting and water charging, holier than thou party”.

Mr Ford said the Alliance vision was “unique in Northern Ireland” and said the party was “determined to build the kind of future that our community deserves, not just deserves, but desperately needs”.

“Not looking back, but forward,” he added.

Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said his party would take no lectures from an Alliance party which ‘had nothing to offer only cuts to public services, to welfare protections and increased charges on the poor.’

“Sinn Féin won’t be lectured by David Ford’s ‘Austerity’ party on our stance of defending children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adama told reporters in Belfast that progress was being made on the subject of welfare reform.

“I spoke to Martin McGuiness...Progress has been made. Martin set this out previously when he said he was resolute and focused, so our team has been working with the DUP and I am pleased to note progress has been made and I hope that continues,” he said on Saturday.

Mr Adam said Sinn Féin was very committed to the issues and that “it isn’t based upon the geography or the jurisdiction that we happen to be in.

“North and South, we are against ordinary people, particularly people with disabilities, children with disabilities, being punished by the greed of the elite,” he said.

On the issue of austerity, Mr Adams said there was no conflict in being signed up to the Stormont budget cuts and sharing a platform with striking public sector workers in the North on Friday.

“The focus for the anti-austerity protests should be with the architects of austerity, in this case, the Tory Government in London.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous people in this part of Ireland should be subject to the type of economic punishment that is coming from a cabinet of millionaires.”