The Antrim and Newtownabbey SDLP councillors Noreen McClelland, Roisin Lynch, Brian Duffin and Thomas Burns feel that there is not enough spin in the world to make what happened last Wednesday in the Assembly appear the right thing to do.
The two majority parties pushed through a deal not supported by the majority of people. The DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance handed over powers to legislate on welfare to the Tories. The very same Tories that Martin McGuinness called Thatcher’s children. The very same deal that Sinn Fein said would be a huge serious mistake. The SDLP voted against it.
What that means is that the Northern Ireland Assembly no longer can act to support the working poor and vulnerable from the Tories austerity agenda because the DUP and SF took away the power and gave it to David Cameron and George Osborne.
We already know some of what is coming from the Tories welfare and work reform - a benefits cap of £20,000, a benefits freeze for four years and the removal of a commitment to tackle child poverty even though more than 1 in 5 children in NI live in poverty.
We do not know what else is coming - and neither does Sinn Fein or the DUP. So why did they hand over our power? In the mouth of Christmas, during the Autumn Statement next week, will Osborne cut housing benefits? Will he cut disability benefits?
The SDLP have long called for welfare and work reform but even this was ignored. Nowhere in ‘A Fresh Start’ is there a strategic economic plan to invest in education or infrastructure - only a proposal to reduce corporation tax which on its own will generate wealth for international companies not local people. Even this began to crumble the day after it was presented with Sinn Fein’s chair in Belfast Jim McVeigh warning it couldn’t be afforded any time soon.
The SDLP said we had to help low paid people stay in work particularly parents who rely on working tax credits. The British Government which is increasing free childcare to 30 hours/wk in England and Wales should have provided money through Barnett Consequentials to enable us to do the same here. But nowhere in the proposals is this mentioned.
Is it a dereliction of responsibilities or merely an inability to perform at the high level demanded at the top of government? When a Nationalist party hands over powers to Westminster, you have to ask were their eyes simply wiped - once again?
This set of proposals epitomises what we get when Sinn Fein and the DUP control the Assembly. The institutions are let down, the north is let down and people are let down.
Cllr Noreen McClelland, Cllr Roisin Lynch, Cllr Brian Duffin, Cllr Thomas Burns.