Northern Ireland

DUP to 'bring welfare reform issue to a head'

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Media captionPeter Robinson spoke to BBC News NI's Julian O'Neill after the draft budget was agreed

The DUP says it intends to bring the controversial welfare reform issue "to a head" before Christmas if it is not resolved in the current talks process.

A paper seen by BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show says the party could bring a welfare reform bill to the assembly.

It would include a £70m fund to mitigate the impact of the changes.

The paper also says the DUP would veto any further penalties being paid to Westminster for not implementing welfare changes.

Imposing reforms

"We will not pass any budget that will lead to the destruction of public services. We therefore will not accept any further welfare penalties or costs," the talks process document says.

If the issue is not resolved in the current inter-party talks, the DUP wants to bring a modified version of Westminster's welfare bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If that is not passed, the DUP document says the party would expect Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and the Westminster government to take responsibility for the matter.

The paper says the London government will have to either fund a separate more expensive Northern Ireland benefits system, which is highly unlikely, or pass legislation imposing the reforms.

Sinn Féin, which has opposed welfare reform, has not commented on the proposals.

Senior party member John O'Dowd said "it was best to leave negotiations behind closed doors."

On Thursday, First Minister Peter Robinson confirmed the draft budget did not contain provision for a welfare penalty next year.

"Nor does it include any money towards the costs that there would be if we were to continue with our own separate system of welfare payments in Northern Ireland," he said.

"That is a matter for the talks, that is a matter for Her Majesty's government.

"They have three options. We have left within the draft budget an amount of about £70m to enhance any GB system of welfare reform for the people of Northern Ireland.


"It would mean we could wipe out the bedroom tax that would be imposed on other parts of the UK, it means that we can have a fund that allows those who are most severely disabled to ensure they have no downward pressure on the payments that are available.

"So there are things that we have done separately and there are funds available for that but if there is no deal done on that then there are only two other options.

"One is that the UK government pays for a separate welfare system in Northern Ireland or else they legislate for it."

Last week the Social Development Minister, the DUP's Mervyn Storey, laid out details of possible welfare mitigation measures in a letter to church leaders.

They include £17m for housing benefit claimants hit by the so-called bedroom tax, a £30m hardship fund and additional money for medical reports as part of the Personal Independence Payment decision-making process.

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