Sinn Féin will stand with the people -Martin McGuinness
Sinn Féin’s concern on this bill is not just about the British Government approach to welfare.
Sinn Féin’s concern is also around the grave implications of the further cuts threatened by the Tories as part of a £25 billion reduction to be outlined in the July budget.
These cuts – which have been described as 'eye watering' by the Tories themselves – will affect the most vulnerable and lead to the loss of thousands of jobs within vital frontline services such as health and education.
They also formed absolutely no part of the discussions, which led to the Stormont House Agreement.
Last week, I spoke to someone who had recently discussed with Downing Street officials the extent of what is facing us.
He said he could only describe it in one word - brutal.
This week we are facing into a building crisis in the political institutions in the North.
The immediate difficulties we are facing into have been triggered by the decision to bring forward a welfare bill to the Assembly, which does not implement the protections agreed at Stormont House – and subsequently – for children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.
Capitulating to pressure and demands from the Tories in London is in my view a major tactical error.
However, the crisis we are facing is not of the making of the parties in the Executive.
The crisis has been created by the austerity cuts agenda of a Tory administration in London, which is attempting to decimate our public services and punish the most vulnerable people in society.
Sinn Féin stood in the recent elections against Tory austerity and for social justice and equality. Our approach was mandated by over 176,000 voters, almost 25 per cent of the popular vote
In contrast the Tories received only 9,000 votes in the north, just over one per cent of the vote. This is a party, which doesn’t have a single Assembly or local council seat. They have no democratic mandate for their austerity policies in the north of Ireland.
Yet they have already taken £1.5 billion from the Executive's block grant. And Cameron’s cabinet of Tory millionaires have announced plans for further cuts of £25 billion to our public services and to welfare protections for people with disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.
These new cuts are set to begin almost immediately and they will devastate our core public services.
In meetings last week I challenged the British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers on two occasions for a breakdown on how this £25 billion raid would impact on the people of the North.
She refused point blank to tell me despite indications the Tories are even prepared to tax Executive top-up payments for the most vulnerable.
That is unacceptable to Sinn Féin.
We made it very clear in our election manifesto that the Executive needs a viable budget for frontline public services and welfare protections for the most vulnerable.
Sinn Féin will not support a welfare bill, which does not contain those protections and we will not be part of any agenda, which punishes the poor and dismantles public services.
In my view the measure of any society is how it treats those most in need and those most vulnerable.
In the face of such devastating Tory cuts our public services, our welfare system, our departments and the Executive itself is not sustainable.
None of the Executive parties stood on a platform of implementing these Tory cuts and Sinn Féin will not abandon children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities, families with children and the long-term sick.
That is why we moved a Petition of Concern to stop the passage of the Welfare Bill and I welcome the fact the SDLP has now supported our position.
It has always been my view that the outstanding issues in the welfare bill can be resolved, but this requires political will from all parties in the assembly, to protect the most vulnerable.
But make no mistake about it the biggest threat to our political institutions remains the ongoing Tory austerity agenda of cuts to our public services and the welfare state.
This is a time when the Executive parties need to stand together to defend our public services particularly in health, education and welfare. We need to stand up for the people who elect us, rather than acting in the interests of a Tory elite.
We need an immediate negotiation with the British government for a budget, which protects our public services and for fiscal powers that give us control over our economy.
We are not alone in this battle against austerity. I note that the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today make an important anti-austerity and anti-cuts speech. They are on the right side of the argument. They are on the right side of history and I appeal to all Assembly parties to join them.
The Scottish Executive has already requested a tripartite meeting of the representatives of the Scottish, Welsh and local Assemblies.
We should be taking this offer up and developing a common position within the Executive and with the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies in opposition to Tory austerity.
The current crisis has come about solely through the actions of the British government.
It can only be resolved by the actions of the British government.
They have attacked the most vulnerable in society, slashed the budget for public services and undermined the credibility of the institutions.
Sinn Féin is clear what needs to happen. It is the platform we stood on in the recent election.
• Protections for the most vulnerable
• A workable budget
• Powers to grow the economy and create employment.
We believe these are aims all the parties could and should unite around.
Sinn Féin has worked and maintained the institutions over the past 8 years in the face of provocation and attack.
Power-sharing, partnership and devolution are the only ways forward. These principles are the basis of the institutions in the North.
Any undermining of these basic principles by the actions of the British Government or parties would be unacceptable.
What the people require is an Assembly that delivers, that has the budget and powers to make a difference in people’s lives.
There is still time for the parties and the British government to change tack and deliver a new budget that delivers for our public services, our economy and our people.
If a choice has to be made to stand side by side with the Tories or stand up for the people here for our economy and public services? I know what side Sinn Féin will be on.