N. Ireland Politics

Sinn Féin: Alex Maskey says welfare deal is possible

Alex Maskey
Image caption Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey called for further talks with the UK government, saying a deal on welfare reform was "doable"

Sinn Féin does not want the Northern Ireland Assembly to collapse and believes a deal on welfare is still possible, its MLA Alex Maskey has said.

His party's ard chomhairle (national executive) met in Dublin on Saturday to discuss the political and financial crisis facing Stormont's institutions.

Mr Maskey said they agreed that Sinn Féin "cannot and will not stand over" proposed cuts to the welfare system.

He called for further talks with the UK government, saying a deal was "doable".

'Recreate the agreement'

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, Mr Maskey said: "The ard chomhairle had a very long conversation yesterday.

"We understand fully the implications of where this might go, we do not want the collapse of the institutions.

"What we do want is to recreate the agreement that the five parties had at Christmas. Let's sit down and hammer that out again if need be, it is doable."

In March, Sinn Féin dramatically withdrew its support for the wide-ranging deal it had struck last December, known as the Stormont House Agreement.

'In the bin'

The agreement provided mitigation measures that would have protected benefit recipients in Northern Ireland who stood to lose out as a result of welfare reform.

Image caption DUP minister Mervyn Storey accused Sinn Féin of being led by its "southern command"

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) minister who tried unsuccessfully to pass the Welfare Reform Bill in the assembly last week told the Sunday Politics that those protective measures have been "lost" and "put in the bin" because of the parties' failure to agree.

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey accused Sinn Féin of being led by its "southern command" in the Republic of Ireland over welfare policy.

Mr Storey said Sinn Féin was "looking both ways" and "constantly looking over its shoulder in relation to what happens in another jurisdiction".

However, Mr Maskey said: "Sinn Féin doesn't have a northern command or a southern command, it has a national party leadership."

The West Belfast MLA listed examples of deals, once believed to impossible, that were struck during the peace process, including the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the 2006 St Andrews Agreement that led to the DUP sharing power with Sinn Féin and the devolution of policing and justice in 2010.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has written to party leaders inviting them to a review of the Stormont House Agreement on Tuesday.

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