So, we are still none the wiser after yesterday’s dossier (the absence of figures or a balance in the correspondence therein meant it crashed out of the headlines last night) exactly why Sinn Fein pulled that reverse ferret on Welfare Reform.
In the Irish Times, Eamonn McCann has what looks like a credible theory (€): the Union day of action tomorrow:
The prospect of being at loggerheads with the unions has dismayed many in Sinn Féin. The party’s ardfheis in Derry last weekend heard an address by Ictu president Jack Douglas, extolling its adherence to the union cause. To the delight of the party, Siptu general secretary Jack O’Connor chose the occasion of the Labour Party conference in Tralee a fortnight ago to hail Sinn Féin as a potential friend of Labour in government.
The party will be acutely aware that many of those who march tomorrow are likely to have voted Sinn Féin in the past.
This is the first time trade unions have opposed a Stormont deal. On every previous occasion, they have hailed the outcome as a welcome contribution to the consolidation of peace.
Sinn Féin will also have been aware that, despite chaotic disagreement between the two main parties as to what was actually agreed, some past statements on the Assembly record are damning.
Responding to claims that the party only discovered last weekend that its Executive partner was interpreting the agreement to mean that “top-up” payments would not apply automatically to all present and future recipients of disability living allowance, the DUP has repeatedly quoted its Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey in the Assembly on February 14th:
“The disability protection scheme . . . involves making a financial payment to those DLA claimants who are unsuccessful in their claim for personal independence payment and who subsequently appeal the disallowance decision . . . A financial payment should be made to those claimants and continue until the appeals service has made a decision on the claimant’s appeal.
“[Another] element provides support for those claimants who receive a lower level of payment under the personal independence payment . . . This will involve a . . . payment that will continue for a specified period depending on the date when the claimant is reassessed for personal independence payment.”
The DUP argues that it is inexplicable in light of these and a number of other apparently unambiguous statements that Sinn Féin can have believed what it now says it believed.
That’s all true. And as Tom Kelly noted earlier in the week, sudden reversals are part of the Sinn Fein toolkit. And, of course, it may be that driving in reverse gear takes them a lot further forward than going where they actually say they’re going.
McCann wryly adds:
The fact that Sinn Féin is now opposing at least some of the cuts which most observers see in the agreement has been welcomed by claimants’ organisations and community and union groups. But the fact that the party has taken such a long and winding road to reach this point has not encouraged confidence that the way ahead will be straightforward.
Quite so Eamonn. And given that tomorrow involves GMB, INTO, NIPSA, Unison, Unite and others right across the public sector, the loss of control over the budget brings little certainty in future rounds of negotiation over health, education and transport.