Villiers and McGuinness in US PR battle over political deadlock

Northern Secretary and Deputy First Minister go to Washington with different messages

The public relations battle over who is chiefly responsible for the political deadlock caused by the welfare reform dispute has crossed the Atlantic, with Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers now briefing the US administration and Irish America.

Ms Villiers is flying to Washington today, hot on the heels of Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who flew out yesterday on a similar three-day mission.

In an effort to avoid any claims that Ms Villiers is trailing Mr McGuinness to America, the Northern Ireland Office emphasised that the Northern Secretary's trip "has been planned for some time".

In parallel to Mr McGuinness's itinerary, Ms Villiers is to update members of the US administration, members of Congress and senior figures within the Irish American community on the deadlock over welfare reform that is threatening the Northern Executive and Assembly.


Austerity measures

While Mr McGuinness is contending that welfare cuts and British government austerity measures are the chief causes of the impasse, Ms Villiers claims Sinn Féin and the SDLP’s failure to implement the

Stormont House Agreement

of last Christmas is the reason for the holdup.

Ms Villiers said she would focus on the need for all parties to implement faithfully the agreement. She said she would set out the British government’s determination to achieve the full implementation of the agreement and seek continued US support for that objective.

“My message over the next three days is clear,” she said. “The Stormont House Agreement remains the best hope for building a brighter, more secure future for Northern Ireland. But for that to happen, the agreement needs to be implemented in full. I will be looking for continued US support for that.

“Without a workable budget and sustainable finances the credibility of the Executive will increasingly be questioned. The Stormont House Agreement provides an additional £2 billion (€2.8 billion) of spending power for the Executive. It now needs to manage its resources responsibly, including implementing the welfare reforms which formed part of the agreement,” Ms Villiers added.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times