In their bid to get back control the message in this debate, Sinn Fein have launched their dossier outling why they have Petition of Concerned the Stormont House Agreement. There appears to have been a great deal of contact between the party and the DUP advisor, Stephen Brimstone. The entire document is well worth a read, but here is Sinn Fein’s chronology of events
17th Dec-Peter Robinson presented a proposal to the five Executive parties (Paper 2) which was rejected by Sinn Féin as it did not provide full protection of current and future claimants in a number of clearly defined categories –families with children, children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities and the long term sick.
18th Dec-Sinn Féin and the DUP concluded a more advanced agreement which included the above categories and the costings as set out in paper 3 by the Department for Social Development. Some projected costings were missing from this table in relation to Severe Disability Premiums. We were told by the Department that the costings could not be provided because of the uncertainty around future claimants.
23rd Dec-A new paper (paper 4) was then produced creating a Supplementary Payment Fund to provide protection for these specific groups. The status of the costings was described as
indicative and not definitive and a mechanism to review funding levels was greed in Year 3. This paper was annexed to the Stormont House Agreement which was endorsed by all parties. The Stormont House Agreement created a Supplementary Payment Fund to provide protection for a number of categories including children with disabilities.
29th Dec-The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met and endorsed the agreement.
12th Jan-Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, speaking in the Assembly said;
There is a huge amount of work. I have given an undertaking to the Assembly in relation to the information that we will bring to the Assembly, in terms of guidance notes and how the Bill will make it’s passage through the House. That will be subject to a paper that, I trust, I will be able to bring to the Executive shortly, so that we can progress the issue in a way that is efficient and effective, and so that no one in Northern Ireland is adversely affected as a result of the changes
The five party leaders met in the Executive Room to implement what had been agreed at the Stormont House there were 7 further meetings in January and February.
19th Feb-Sinn Féin received a draft Supplementary Payment fund Scheme (paper 5) from the DUP. This paper was to provide protections for families with children, children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities and the long term sick. It failed to do that.
23rd Feb-Sinn Féin met with Minister Mervyn Storey and his DUP advisor Stephen Brimstone. We made it clear that the proposed scheme did not match what had been agreed. Following the meeting we emailed the DUP setting out our position;
On the back of our conversation today, just to reiterate, Sinn Féin agreed a package on the basis that it was for current and future and that the figures presented was for full loss of benefit.
24th Feb-DUP advisor Stephen Brimstone contacted the party by phone to say that a new paper was coming.
25th Feb-Sinn Féin received a new Supplementary Payment Fund paper (paper 6). This new version also excluded new claimants and only offered partial protection for current claimants.
Sinn Féin emailed Stephen Brimstone to reiterate that the proposed scheme did not reflect what was agreed between our parties
As I indicated in my email the other day to you, Sinn Féin agreed a package on the basis that it was for existing and future claimants and for the full and not partial loss of benefit. Just to re-iterate, any movement away from this will not be agreed by Sinn Féin
However the Supplementary Payment Fund paper did contain papers which had been prepared by the Department for Social Development to inform discussions between the DUP and Sinn Féin in December. The Department had assumed that these papers (annexes D,E and F contained in paper 6) had been provided to Sinn Féin. In fact they had been withheld from Sinn Féin. Some of the figures on which they were based were withheld.
These documents are clear evidence that the DUP not only acted in bad faith in December on the issue of welfare, but that they were dishonest in deliberately withholding from Sinn Féin important information supplied by the Department with the intention of distorting the outcome of the negotiations.
2nd March-Sinn Féin sought a meeting with the DUP.
3rd March- DUP advisor Stephen Brimstone met with Sinn Féin advisors.
4th March-Martin McGuinness met with Peter Robinson
5th March-Martin McGuinness met with Peter Robinson on three occasions. The second meeting was attended by the Department of Social Development.The Department officials confirmed what was contained in Annex F of paper 6 –that costings were for protecting existing and future ESA claimants.
Annex E of paper 6 shows that the figures provided for Child Additional Rates were for future claimants. Following these meetings the DUP agreed to commission new projections for the full protection of both existing and new claimants.
6th March-Peter Robinson had agreed to meet Martin McGuinness in Belfast. Martin McGuinness travelled from Derry and waited until 4pm. The DUP did not turn up. Martin McGuinness said he would make himself available for a meeting on the 7th or 8th even if it meant leaving the Ard Fheis. The DUP refused to engage.
9th March-The new projections were only supplied to Sinn Féin at 6pm on Monday 9th after Sinn Féin had submitted a Petition of Concern and the Bill had been withdrawn.
I await with bated breath the DUP response. Some questions based on this, why did the DUP not turn up to last weekends meetings and why did it take so long for information to be furnished on aspects of the welfare changes?
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs