Northern Ireland

SDLP welfare deal reform denial criticised by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson
Image caption Peter Robinson said the SDLP had been part of a four-party deal on welfare reform on 17 December

The first minister has criticised the SDLP for denying it signed up to a welfare reform provisional agreement.

The attack on the party was apparently co-ordinated by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Peter Robinson told MLAs he listened "open-mouthed" to a denial by SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly, claiming what she said was "totally misleading".

Last week, Ms Kelly dismissed Sinn Féin's claim that the SDLP had agreed a position on welfare reform with the DUP, the UUP and Alliance in December.

She was speaking on the BBC's The View programme.

During first minister's questions in the assembly, Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady asked Mr Robinson whether the SDLP had been part of a four-party deal on 17 December that did not include a multi-million pound supplementary payment fund.

Mr Robinson said this had been the case.

'Totally misleading'

He went on to criticise Ms Kelly: "If the member were to do what she should do at the speed that she should do it, I would not like to be standing between her and the confessional.

"For anybody to suggest, as she did, that her party had not endorsed either the four-party agreement or the five-party agreement is totally misleading."

However, other SDLP politicians have agreed with Ms Kelly's version of events.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin have been trading fierce words over the welfare issue as the legislation on changes to benefits has been making its way through the assembly.

On 19 December, the five executive parties signed off on the Stormont Castle Agreement, in which they agreed proposals to put to the British government.

The British and Irish governments and the parties struck the Stormont House Agreement on 23 December, which dealt with a number of issues - including welfare reform, the budget and how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

The Stormont Castle Agreement has been published, and reveals several differences between the parties' proposals and what ended up in the Stormont House Agreement.

One is about the financial penalties which Stormont had to pay to the Treasury because it had not agreed to the welfare changes introduced in the rest of the UK.

The parties wanted the penalties, which amounted to tens of millions of pounds, to be scrapped.

But this was not in the final deal.

The Stormont Castle Agreement also included a proposal to replace the Parades Commission with two new bodies - one to facilitate local dialogue and another to rule on contentious marches.

This also did not make it into the Stormont House Agreement.

Instead, the final deal featured an agreement in principle that parading should be devolved to Stormont and that proposals should be brought to the executive by June.

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