Northern Ireland

Welfare reform: David Cameron warns Sinn Féin over agreement

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Media captionDavid Cameron said "Everyone should do what they signed up to do", Stephen Walker reports.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said everyone including Sinn Féin should do what they signed up to do in the Stormont House Agreement.

Mr Cameron was speaking in the wake of Sinn Féin's withdrawal of support for a welfare reform bill.

Sinn Féin withdrew its support for the bill on Monday after accusing the DUP of reneging on commitments made in the agreement.

Mr Cameron said what mattered was implementing the agreement.

"What matters is now implementing the Stormont agreement, and everyone should do what they signed up to do in that agreement, Sinn Féin included," he told the House of Commons.

"I know that the Northern Ireland Secretary is working very hard to try to make sure that everyone fulfils their pledges."

East Belfast MP Naomi Long from the Alliance Party had asked Mr Cameron if he shared her anger that Sinn Féin was "reneging" on promises made as part of the agreement.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said Sinn Féin's withdrawal of support for a welfare reform bill was "unhelpful and hugely disappointing".

She said she hoped to get Northern Ireland party leaders together soon.

However, she said the agreement would not be reopened.

"We do need to press ahead with implementation," she said..

"The corporation tax question is difficult. It is expressly linked with resolution of welfare reform.

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Media captionTheresa Villiers said Sinn Féin's withdrawal of support for a welfare reform bill was "unhelpful and hugely disappointing"

"The bill contains a commencement clause and there is no question that this welfare question must be resolved, the executive must fulfil its obligations under the Stormont House Agreement, before the commencement could be operated.

"But in the interim the government is proposing to continue with the legislation to complete its parliamentary progress because we are determined to implement the agreement fully and fairly.

"Let me be very clear, Northern Ireland will not get these devolved powers until the Stormont House Agreement is implemented."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Sinn Féin's actions in reneging on the agreement had left people "stunned, bewildered and indeed angry".

"It is very clear that Sinn Féin are putting their own narrow self party interest ahead of vulnerable people and the entire community in Northern Ireland," he added.

'Huge step backwards'

Ms Villiers agreed Sinn Féin's actions were a "significant surprise, given the enthusiasm with which the Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin were promoting the agreement".

"It would be a huge step backwards if the Stormont House Agreement were to be jeopardised and it would plunge us back potentially into the kind of budget and political crisis with which we were grappling last year," she said.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis said the unravelling of the agreement would be an "unmitigated disaster" for economic and political confidence.

He asked if Ms Villiers would convene urgent talks to find a way forward and to clarify the deadline date by which the bill must be passed if the executive and not civil servants is to set next year's budget.

"I expect to be meeting with the five party leaders in the coming days, hopefully tomorrow," Ms Villiers said.

"It is vital that we see progress on welfare reform. That is a key part of the Stormont House Agreement.

"I will be pressing for that, not least because without this approach the Northern Ireland executive's budget becomes unsustainable which hugely impairs its ability to function effectively."

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said £200m would solve problems over welfare reform but the Northern Ireland Secretary has said there will be no extra cash.

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