Martin McGuinness: “We are not in conflict with Peter Robinson and the DUP… We are in conflict with the British government…”

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And not for the first time…  ANYhoo…  With elections out of the way, for now, there is some space for a discussion on actual Northern Ireland Executive policy.  Into that space comes the NI OFMDFM and UK Government’s agreed update [2 July 2014] on last year’s Building a Prosperous and United Community economic pact.  And there are a few points of interest to pick up on.

Firstly is the agreed re-profiling of last year’s additional £100million borrowing by the NI Executive from the UK Government, and its extension by another £30million, to cover 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Then, as the BBC report notes

The wide-ranging economic update also revealed that the feasibility of introducing US immigration clearance at Belfast International Airport has been explored.

Here’s what the agreed update has to say about that topic [pdf file]

81. The feasibility of establishing US immigration, customs and agricultural pre-clearance at Belfast International Airport has now been explored. A number of significant issues have been identified including the minimum threshold of 400,000 passengers per annum on US flights at a specific airport before pre-clearance will be considered by the US authorities. Belfast International falls below this threshold with current passenger volumes on US flights in the region of 100,000 per annum.

Which might come as news to the UK Home Department, who just 2 days previously [30 June] gave this written answer to the House of Commons.

Mr Ivan Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment officials in her Department have made of the feasibility of establishing US immigration, customs and agricultural pre-clearance at Belfast International Airport. [202092]

Karen Bradley: Officials have made no such assessment, but would do so if this were requested by Belfast International Airport. [added emphasis]

Back to the BBC report and an update, of sorts, on the devolution of corporation tax

The cost of devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland has still not been quantified in a joint economic update published by the NI Executive and the Westminster government. [added emphasis]

The executive wants to be able to reduce the tax rate to 12.5% to match the Republic of Ireland.

European rules mean that Stormont would have to compensate the Treasury for any tax reduction.

This would require them to hand back a portion of its annual budget.

The ‘economic pact’ update said more work needs to be carried out to consider “the adjustments to the block grant that would be required if devolution was to proceed”.

A more accurate assessment might be that OFMDFM have failed to agree a “cost” which doesn’t fall foul of EU regulations on regional aid – which would result in further fines.  But the previously estimated cost was £400 million per year.

Speaking of which, we can confirm the cost to the NI Executive’s budget allowance from the failure to agree Welfare Reform, at least until 2015-16.  As a written answer from the UK Treasury to the House of Commons [30 June 2014] reveals

Mr Ivan Lewis: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the current value is of all financial penalties imposed on the Northern Ireland Executive as a result of that body not implementing the Government’s welfare reform policy. [201864]

Danny Alexander: I wrote to the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance and Personnel on 31 March to set out that that the Northern Ireland Executive’s funding allocations would be reduced by £13 million, £87 million and £114 million for 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively. [added emphasis]

You may, or may not, wish to employ the NI Executive’s triple-counting approach to calculating that overall bill…

Which brings me back to the quote in the post title…  Here’s what the NI First and deputy First Ministers told the BBC after yesterday’s meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Afterwards, First Minister Peter Robinson said the the prime minister was “absolutely clear” that there was no more room for manoeuvre on welfare reform.

Westminster is reducing the amount of money it sends to the executive because it will not agree on welfare changes. Sinn Féin is refusing to support a welfare reform bill.

“We all know that budgets will be reduced and the effect of these Sinn Féin cuts will be felt by those most in need,” Mr Robinson said.

“What people want to know is whether Sinn Féin will take responsibility for the consequences of their failure to act responsibly.”

However, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said: “We are not in conflict with Peter Robinson and the DUP on the issue of welfare.

“We are in conflict with the British government and we said that to David Cameron during the course of the meeting.” [added emphasis]

[Which meeting? - Ed]  The one with Sinn Féin, I suspect…  But Martin McGuinness had better keep his party colleagues [and John, et al! - Ed] up to speed with his latest posturing playing to the gallery.  Take, for example, Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan in a 17 June statement on data from the NI Centre for Economic Policy indicating the difference in average “wages” across the UK.  From the Sinn Féin press release

[Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan]: “While local disposable income has increased by approximately £4 per week in the last year the proposed welfare cuts would not only wipe out this meagre increase but plunge people even further into abject poverty.

This is why Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the introduction of welfare cuts which are part of the right wing Tory/DUP austerity agenda. [added emphasis]

[It's the only "disposable income" I have! - Ed]  Indeed.

Interestingly, Martin McGuinness’ “in conflict with the British government” echoes a statement by the DUP’s Nigel Dodds in February this year

Similarly with the introduction of welfare reform there are some more rational and sensible individuals within Sinn Fein who recognise the policy is not a creation of Stormont, but comes to us from Westminster. Beneficial amendments have been sought and granted thanks to the work of Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.

However, despite some within Sinn Fein privately making it clear that they know the hugely detrimental impact that not proceeding with welfare reform will have, there are others holding them back because they are not prepared to act like any other normal political party.

It is very clear that for some time dissenting voices within Sinn Fein and within republicanism have been growing louder. The increasingly hysterical comments lashing out at anyone within unionism appears to be Martin McGuinness’s way of reassuring a troubled base that all is well in the project towards a united Ireland.

Instead of directing these tirades at unionism its time that Sinn Fein admitted to their own ranks that decisions on things like welfare reform and the National Crime Agency are the new reality. Unfortunately however, unless a decision has some direct bearing on a small republican clique what little ability there was for some within Sinn Fein to take sensible decisions appears to have been all but removed. [added emphasis throughout]

[Time for another U-turn then?! - Ed]  Well, that was before McGuinness took “umbrage” when NI First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, said that a deal on welfare reform had been agreed within OFMDFM, but that Martin McGuinness had failed to sell it to the rest of his party.

Speaking on BBC NI’s The View on Thursday night, Mr Robinson said a deal had been agreed by himself and Mr McGuinness last May, but the deputy first minister could not sell it to his party.

“I feel let down,” Mr Robinson said.

“We are elected to do a job, we took on that responsibility, that responsibility goes beyond being able to open nice new buildings and hearing the applause from the people for the benefits that might be derived from that.

“It also goes to making hard decisions that are not always popular.”

Mr Robinson said that Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams had a very negative influence on the party’s team in the Northern Ireland Executive.

“I know the slowdown that is taking place in terms of getting decisions taken because the decisions that we might take might cause difficulties for Gerry Adams and his colleagues in the Dáil,” he said.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    I have to hand it to you Pete (although perhaps I am biased as a fellow Stoop): for the day that’s in, this is a fantastic diversionary tactic.

    P.S. Any more chat from Mick on north Belfast “unionist reservations”?

  • gendjinn

    SF collapsing Stormont by refusing to implement Tory austerity cuts?

    Yeah, can’t possibly see any upside for SF in that strategy whatsoever…… *eye roll*

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    TCG[3.56] ‘…..on north Belfast unionist reservations’ now there’s an idea. Perhaps the twaddell mob missed a trick and should have got themselves a teepee instead of that Father Ted caravan.

  • Pete Baker

    Focus, gentlemen…

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Cheers for the diktat Pete.

  • Greenflag

    Messrs Robinson , Dodds , McGuiness should be demanding not welfare reform but reform of the UK financial sector so that it serves the people and not the fat cats of the 1% in the City of London . The haves have taken more out of the British economy in the past decade than they ever have in history .Meanwhile the middle and working class Brits are learning that ‘austerity ‘ is for them and them alone .

    Once again house prices are on the increase in London while there is further wage stagnation and millions of Britons are in low paid jobs while zero hour contracts and the abuse of employees has seen even another case of ‘slavery ‘

    If there is abuse of the welfare system it’s probably the best for the economy in the short term to leave this problem .

    Don’t forget 70% of the NI economy is Goverment spending .Reduce that and you reduce ‘spending ‘ . Reduce spending and you increase unemployment leading to a further reduction in spending . That reduces tax revenues which forces further cutbacks in spending and the vicious cycle continues downward until ‘economic ‘ riots hit the streets .

    I guess Messrs Robinson and his neo con
    economic advisers have thought through their economic policies of trickle down further relative impoverisation of the Northern Ireland people ?

  • Reader

    Greenflag: I guess Messrs Robinson and his neo con
    economic advisers have thought through their economic policies of trickle down further relative impoverisation of the Northern Ireland people ?

    The money from Westminster is being cut. All that Robinson and McGuinness can argue about now is where the cuts will fall. Robinson says cut welfare, as per UK Government diktat. McGuinness says sack a few contractors and temporary staff from the civil service as per standard year-end practice by panicky department heads the world over. Neither choice takes the 69% back up to 70%, so – rhetoric aside – you have no champion and no villain, simply a harsh choice.

  • MYtwocents

    I heard the new chief constable link a £10,000,000 lost to police funds, to the refusal of stormont (SF) to agree welfare cuts.

  • cynic2

    At the moment SF and the DUPs rely heavily on votes of the DSS / DLA claimants and all the civil servants paid salaries way above market rates for woefully less work.

    I think the only thing left for the UK Government to do is to cut and cut the NI Budget until it forces the voters here to elect competent politicians. That will be long and painful but reality has to intrude.

    These cuts are only the start – we will see more and more as the UK winds down a bloated Government spending bill it cannot afford. Why should they spend it here when their voters in English Regions get far less?

  • Old Mortality

    Greenflag
    ‘Don’t forget 70% of the NI economy is Government spending.Reduce that and you reduce ‘spending ‘. Reduce spending and you increase unemployment leading to a further reduction in spending . That reduces tax revenues which forces further cutbacks in spending and the vicious cycle continues downward until ‘economic ‘ riots hit the streets.’

    So it follows that in order to create a virtuous circle, public spending should increase by as much as possible or have I misunderstood something?

  • Old Mortality

    Cynic 2
    ‘At the moment SF and the DUPs rely heavily on votes of the DSS / DLA claimants and all the civil servants paid salaries way above market rates for woefully less work.’

    Quite so. And this is why devolved government is not viable in NI. All the tedious arguments about ‘dealing with the past’ etc are irrelevant side issues in comparison.

  • Reader

    Old Mortality: Quite so. And this is why devolved government is not viable in NI. All the tedious arguments about ‘dealing with the past’ etc are irrelevant side issues in comparison.
    I think devolved government is viable, though we have a years worth of SF fudging on the NI budget and unionist head banging on marches still to look forward to.

  • Barnshee

    GF
    “Don’t forget 70% of the NI economy is Goverment spending .Reduce that and you reduce ‘spending ‘ . Reduce spending and you increase unemployment leading to a further reduction in spending . That reduces tax revenues which forces further cutbacks in spending and the vicious cycle continues downward until ‘economic ‘ riots hit the streets .”

    Too many people– too few real jobs —a state all held up by the British taxpayer– cut the support to equal the tax raised and tell the politicians in NI to-

    1 live with it
    2 raise more themselves or
    3 Fuck off