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

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.