Graffiti on a Belfast Dole Office

Graffiti on a Belfast Dole Office

After weeks of debate about welfare reform in Northern Ireland, it must be said that we haven’t actually debated welfare or reform. In fact, the argument, at its core, has been about power and responsibility, which, at this point, neither the DUP or Sinn Féin seem to want.

We desperately need leadership and we’re not getting it. The debate about welfare reform should be about how to simultaneously protect the vulnerable from harsh cuts while balancing the government books. Instead, the two largest parties in the Assembly have focused on whether it’s worse to impose decisions made by London or make no decisions at all. Neither party has taken ownership of the situation and offered a way forward.

Northern Ireland isn’t alone in trying to stop the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have, for example, explicitly said they will try and delay the rollout of Universal Credit until Westminster devolves further powers to Scotland. The same kind of desire for control and responsibility of local affairs can’t be said to exist here in Northern Ireland. Our own brinksmanship-style politics instead threatens to send fiscal powers back to Westminster. In a worst case scenario where we return to Direct Rule, welfare reform, as a NICVA statement recently put it, “could be implemented at the strike of a pen with none of the mitigations” [previously negotiated by Sinn Féinn and the DUP].

For the full article, visit Slugger O’Toole, http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/10/05/its-time-we-actually-debate-welfare-reform/

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