By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor.
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey told a conference on homelessness in Belfast yesterday that it is unlikely a deal would be reached on welfare reform before the General Election on May 7.
Mr Maskey, who addressed the conference, in his capacity as chairperson of the Social Development Committee at Stormont, also said that he couldn’t give great hope to the sustainability of the political institutions at the present time.
The conference, held in the Crescent Arts Centre, was organised by the group Homeless Action and supported by the Simon Community and the Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation (PPR)
Mr Maskey said: “It is quite unrealistic to think we will get a deal on welfare reform before May 7.
“A document I received recently as part of shared discussion papers leads me to believe that we won’t be reaching agreement anytime soon.
“At this present time, I couldn’t give great hope as to the sustainability of the political institutions. Because if it requires an agreement on the basis of the welfare reform deal we are getting at present from Westminster, then a deal is not on offer.
Mr Maskey added: “We have made it very clear that there are categories of people whose needs need to be addressed. We have made this a red line issue.
“We thought we had all this tied down in the Stormont House Agreement. People then decided to make different interpretations. At this moment in time we do not have a deal on welfare reform.
“Do I want to have a deal. Yes, off course I do. I want to get the issues resolved.
“We have made it clear as a party that there are key pillars of what might be described as the Welfare State, such as welfare, health and education. We are sticking by this. These are red lines.
“I hope we can get a deal. Somewhere along the lines we have to.
“But can anyone seriously suggest that if you listen to George Osborne or David Cameron and they get re-elected in May and then decide they are going to take another £12 billion. We can’t see where they are going to take this from. I can’t see us as an institution being sustainable if we get that type of policy.
Mr Maskey said: “From what I can see a deal is far off at this moment in time.”