Northern Ireland

Theresa Villiers warns executive will be "increasingly dysfunctional" without welfare deal

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers pictured at the Northern Ireland Conservatives' manifesto launch in Belfast in April Image copyright PA
Image caption Theresa Villiers is planning to meet political party leaders in Northern Ireland for talks

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said it is crucial that the issue of welfare reform is resolved or the executive is likely to become "increasingly dysfunctional".

Ms Villiers said she would be speaking to all the Northern Ireland political party leaders over the "coming days".

She said that failure to find a solution to the dispute would mean there was no "workable budget".

Ms Villiers said this would have an impact on Troubles legacy issues.

"It is crucial that the executive is able to fulfil what it promises to do under the Stormont House Agreement, after all the party that has caused the latest impasse, Sinn Féin, were the ones that were most vocally in favour of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA)," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster.

"It is time for them to sit round the table with the other parties to make sure the dispute around the implementation of the welfare provision is resolved.

"Otherwise the executive doesn't have a workable budget.

"The package provided under the SHA amounts to around £2bn in extra spending power and that's a considerable and generous extra financial support.

"There isn't additional funding on top of that but one of the benefits of pressing ahead with the obligations the executive undertook under the SHA is that they get access to that financial package.

"If this latest impasse isn't resolved then obviously that financial package is jeopardised and I think even more worryingly the progress on the past and dealing with the legacy of the past and improving outcomes for victims and survivors that is all in jeopardy as well which I think would be deeply regrettable."

Ms Villiers also rejected claims that the government's pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act would be a "flagrant breach" of the Good Friday Agreement.

Scrapping the act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights was a Conservative election manifesto pledge.

'Ultimate decisions'

The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) said such a move would "significantly roll back" Northern Ireland's peace settlement.

"I just don't believe that for a moment and I don't believe that the CAJ have got grounds for that assertion," Ms Villiers said.

"We are committed to protecting the rights that are contained in the convention. It is about addressing the mission creed which has seen human rights come into all sorts of areas for which those who drafted the convention back in the 1940s never envisaged.

"It is about making sure ultimate decisions on human rights are made within this country and not in Strasbourg."

Following Ms Villier's comments on Wednesday, the CAJ said its position on the matter had not changed.

Ms Villiers also said the government did not plan to hold a separate referendum in Northern Ireland on membership of the European Union as proposed by Sinn Féin.

"We will have a referendum for the whole of the United Kingdom, we are not proposing separate referenda for the individual parts of the UK," she added.

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