McGuinness hopes to reach welfare deal this week

First and Deputy First Ministers will not visit White House for St Patrick’s Day talks

Both Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) and First Minister Peter Robinson (left) have cancelled plans to travel to Washington for St Patrick’s Day as they attempt to come to an agreement over Welfare Reform. Photograph: John Harrison/Harrison Photography/PA Wire.

Both Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) and First Minister Peter Robinson (left) have cancelled plans to travel to Washington for St Patrick’s Day as they attempt to come to an agreement over Welfare Reform. Photograph: John Harrison/Harrison Photography/PA Wire.

 

The Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said he is hopeful that agreement in the latest impasse at Stormont can be reached by the end of this week.

Both he and the Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson have cancelled their annual St Patrick’s Day trip to Washington as talks in Belfast on the Welfare Reform Bill continue.

On RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday, Mr McGuinness said they had “identified a way forward which can resolve this difficulty.”

The British government was not going to provide further funds so the money necessary would come “from within our own resources,” he said.

In a statement realeased earlier on Sunday he said the number one priority for him and his party was finding a resolution to the current impasse.

“The Sinn Féin team and I have engaged in this work positively and constructively. Progress has been made in talks between the parties but there is still a lot of work to be done.I have decided to focus on finding a resolution and will therefore not be travelling to the US to take part in events marking St Patrick’s Day,” he said

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness were due to meet US president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden during a series of St Patrick’s Day engagements this week.

This latest row erupted last Monday when Sinn Féin decided to withdraw support from welfare legislation just hours before a final Assembly debate.

This arose from the party’s concern over whether Stormont-funded mitigation schemes, designed to support those in Northern Ireland who would lose out under the reformed UK welfare system will cover future claimants, not just existing ones.

Sinn Féin alleged the DUP had acted in bad faith by proposing to limit the schemes to current claimants. The DUP insisted there had never been an agreement to support future claimants and that such a system would require another £286 million.

Implementing changes to the benefits system was a key plank of December’s landmark Stormont House Agreement and, without passing the already long-delayed legislation, the entire deal would likely implode.

The impasse at Stormont has raised questions about the future of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Formal meetings between the parties are expected to resume on Monday.

Alliance party leader David Ford on Saturday said blame would 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.

“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,” said Mr Ford, the North’s justice minister. “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.”