You Don't Hear It Mentioned

Michael Doherty looks at welfare reform in the North and the abandonment of the most vulnerable by DUP-Sinn Fein. 

Legislative Consent Motion: Welfare Reform - You don’t hear it mentioned these days

Now that another round of “talks” has ended, it seems likely that we’ll end up back at the 80’s ubiquitous “Talks about talks”. On social media last January I stated my belief that the Stormont GFA experiment had failed, and that something that had never been tried before, Joint Authority, should be on the agenda. One local SF Councillor accused me of advocating “Tory joint rule”, oblivious to the fact that Stormont was a constituent devolved assembly of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom – devolved from, and subject to, Westminster!

Of course Tory Joint Rule didn’t seem to bother his Party when they handed welfare back to Westminster in December 2015, all to “Protect the Institutions” no less!.

And the aforementioned welfare cuts are the crux of the current stalemate. For those looking to blame other issues, let’s take a look at them one by one.

1                     RHI. Remember the RHI scandal? The outrage! You don’t hear it mentioned these days.. Stormont voted to amend the scheme in February 2016 ... yes 2016 … yes, February 2016, a full two months before the Assembly election of … you guessed it … 2016. Why would you amend a scheme that was working well? You wouldn’t. Therefore the Stormont Parties knew all about cash for ash and said (and did) nothing until Spotlight brought it to the public’s attention in December of that year.                      

2                  Likewise, with the demand in January 2017 for Arlene Foster step aside until RHI was investigated … You don’t hear that mentioned these days

3                  Acht na Gaeilge. Annexe B of the St Andrews Agreement states “The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.” So, it was agreed for the (British) Government to introduce the Act. Nobody seemed too bothered to insist on them doing so anytime in the next 10 years! DCAL, now the infamous Department for Communities, issued their Languages policy and strategy in 2008. This included Líofa and the Gaeltacht Quarter and Irish language Broadcast Fund. Neither the 2008 - 2011 nor the 2011-2015 Stormont Programmes for Government mentioned an Irish Language Act. In April 2014 Irish Language activists marched through Belfast, protesting cuts imposed by the DCAL Minister, Sinn Fein’s Carál Ní Chuilín. The Minister and party members took part in the protest – You don’t hear it mentioned these days, and you couldn’t make it up if you tried! Anyhow …The real reason Acht na Gaeilge has achieved such importance now is down to one thing – Paul Givan’s petty jab at them’uns by cutting Líofa funding. The sheer sectarianism of this act enraged the wider Nationalist community and, as with water charges down south, SF were on it like an Easter bonnet! 

4                  Marriage Equality. There’s little doubt that votes on this subject (in Stormont anyway) mirror the Nationalist/Unionist split in society. I always laughed how Mike Nesbitt said he was against Marriage Equality on religious grounds and was rarely challenged on this …. especially since the subject has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. Mind you he ended this tortuous journey by saying he’s for it now … now he’s no longer party leader! The proposal gained a simple majority in Stormont on 2nd November 2015, blocked only by the ever present Petition of Concern.

So, the RHI scandal and Arlene Foster as First Minister are no longer part of the equation. The Irish Language Act was promised by the British Government (And we are used to hearing British Governments saying they will honour the agreements of previous Governments), and Marriage Equality achieved a majority vote in Stormont.

Why doesn’t James Broken-Shire suspend Stormont and impose a time limited of Direct Rule during which MLAs will not be paid but their offices and staff remain funded? During that time he can use a glide path to Primary Legislation in Westminster (along with the budget that was agreed by the Executive but not produced) for the Irish Language Act agreed to in 2006 and Marriage Equality as voted for by Stormont in 2015. As Direct Rule has been imposed “devolved powers” no longer exist, nor does the Petition of Concern. After he’s done this SF’s main demands are met, and the DUP can claim it didn’t give in to them’uns, the Brits did.

Cue a quick return to Stormont “Normality” -  I think not

As I said earlier, the real crux is the welfare cuts. 

Here’s a piece from the Belfast Newsletter of 18th November 2015

Just weeks ago, Sinn Fein re-affirmed its pledge that no benefit claimant would lose out as a result of changes to benefits under Stormont’s control. In an exchange on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on September 8, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy reiterated the position spelt out in previous months by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and other senior Sinn Fein figures. It was put to Mr Murphy that the DUP said that Sinn Fein’s position — that no present or future claimants will be affected by anything that Stormont controls — was unachievable and he was asked if he was going to keep that promise or if the party might have to shift its stance. Mr Murphy replied: “No, that’s what we said and that was our understanding of the Agreement, and that’s reflected in some of the papers that have been exchanged.”

The important line is “Sinn Fein’s position — that no present or future claimants will be affected by anything that Stormont controls”. 
On 18th December 2015 Stormont passed this:

That this Assembly consents to the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill 2015 being taken forward by the Westminster Parliament; approves the welfare clauses of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as initially introduced at Westminster; the draft Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015; and the Executive’s proposals to enhance payments flowing from the agreement announced on 17 November 2015.

You don’t hear that mentioned these days!

You see what happened there? SF promised that no present or future claimants will be affected by anything that Stormont controls.

Then Voted Through A Provision To Hand Stormont’s Welfare Powers Back To The Tories In Westmister.

Stormont no longer controls welfare

It wasn’t us did it, we’re against the cuts!

Universal Credit is now being rolled out in the North. Here’s the timetable:

Date Universal Credit will start
Jobs & Benefits / Social Security office
27 September 2017
15 November 2017
13 December 2017
Magherafelt and Coleraine
17 January 2018
Strabane and Lisnagelvin
7 February 2018
Foyle and Armagh
21 February 2018
Omagh and Enniskillen
7 March 2018
Dungannon and Portadown
18 April 2018
Banbridge and Lurgan
2 May 2018
Kilkeel, Downpatrick and Newry
16 May 2018
Bangor, Newtownards and Holywood Road
30 May 2018
Knockbreda, Newtownabbey and Shankill
13 June 2018
Corporation Street, Falls and Andersonstown
27 June 2018
Shaftesbury Square, Lisburn and Larne
4 July 2018
Carrickfergus, Antrim and Ballymena
July to September 2018
Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle

As the Stormont Executive parties want us to forget they voted to hand welfare back to the Tories, they will want the Tories to be seen as imposing it. Not us, we are against cuts to the most vulnerable! Universal Credit will be a  unmitigated disaster for those on or below the breadline, lives will be endangered and lost. SF/DUP are well aware of this. 

If you’re waiting on a Stormont return … October 2018 at the earliest, when they can blame someone else for their own actions!

Michael Doherty is a Derry political activist and social media writer.


  1. Thanks Brian. I forgot to mention one big difference between SF/DUP. SF will be hoping, like myself, that there's another British General Election (very possible!) in the next few months. Corbyn as PM and UC disappears, hopefully. I'd put money on the DUP hoping for an ever weakening Tory Govt more and more dependent on them!