Responding to the announcement form Secretary of State Theresa Villiers that the UK Government was prepared to step in and legislate for welfare reform if local parties failed to agree a way forward, Mr Farry added it was ‘always preferable’ for local parties to act responsibly for themselves.
Stephen Farry MLA said: “All of the political parties in government have a responsibility to ensure that our local public services are sufficiently resourced. Often it is these investments that most assist those who are most vulnerable in society, and provide the opportunities for people to transform their lives. Certainty around local budgets has to be given in the coming weeks.
“Devolution is in the DNA of the Alliance Party. We do not take any potential reverse in the devolution settlement lightly. However, welfare policy is an area where the Northern Ireland Assembly has all of the responsibility, but relatively little power in practice.
“It is still in the hands for the local parties to proceed with the welfare aspect of the Stormont House Agreement or decide collectively to modify it. While the Secretary of State’s announcement gives a little certainty around local budgets, it remains preferable that the parties proceed on the basis of local agreement.
“In blocking welfare reform to date, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Greens have failed to govern competently or responsibly. If welfare powers are taken back and the Tory version of welfare reform imposed, they will be the ones to blame.
“Alliance also welcomes the announcement regarding the availability of funds for the Voluntary Exit Scheme. This is an urgency in this regard given the offers that have been made to members of the NI Civil Service. Over the past number of weeks, we have been asking the Secretary of State to do this as it is in the interest of both the NIO and the NI Executive that steps to rebalance the local economy and to address staff costs are taken forward.
“Despite these safeguards, Alliance remains under no illusion regarding the ongoing imbalances and pressures in terms of this year’s Executive Budget and the wider structural problems in our finances. There are also much wider issues regarding the rule of law, Stormont House implementation, and making devolution workable and sustainable that must be urgently addressed over the coming weeks.”