Northern Ireland

DUP accused of 'consciously delaying' vital legislation to close welfare loopholes 'pushing people further into poverty'

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she has been `writing every week' to ask for the closure of welfare loopholes
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she has been `writing every week' to ask for the closure of welfare loopholes

THE DUP has been accused of `consciously delaying' vital legislation which would close loopholes in welfare legislation that are `pushing people further into poverty'.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey told assembly members she had tried on 17 occasions since March to ask for her paper - which would provide financial relief to more than 1,200 families in poverty - to be discussed at Executive meetings.

She said despite "all parties saying they want to push ahead in having these mitigations through", it has not made it onto the agenda.

"I write on a weekly basis, I raise this under any other business - because it's the only way that I can and indeed for business to be placed on the Executive agenda that needs approval for that to be done.

"I haven't been given any reason as of yet as to why it hasn't progressed to be placed on the Executive agenda to be agreed - and it hasn't been through a want of trying.

The Sinn Féin minister told the Communities Committee yesterday it was "frustrating" and offered them "a whole list of dates here as to when I've requested it, when I've put different versions of the paper in, when I've responded to further information requests".

"From March I have made 10 requests by email in terms of the paper being placed on and I have sent seven direct letters as well to the Executive then for the paper to be tabled.

"I've raised it at every subsequent meeting under any other business, again highlighting, because for me people are losing out.

"People are being pushed further into poverty and the issue for me is making sure we close these loopholes without further delay."

She said she will be trying again "in the next couple of days" and will try and speed it through the administrative Executive Office.

UUP committee member Andy Allen said it appears that the blockage was "within FMdFM" (First Minister/deputy First Minister) - occupied by Ms Hargey's colleague Michelle O'Neill and until this week former DUP leader Arlene Foster.

"If that is the case it's unforgivable that a party is blocking this at the Executive and not allowing it to come forward to be considered and then being introduced to the Executive table.

"I can assure you that's not coming from my party. We need to see these come forward.

"... It's unacceptable the way government is being done here... parties need to take a long hard look at themselves in that respect."

Sinn Féin committee member Karen Mullan stressed that the `blockage' is not from her party either.

Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick of the Cliff Edge Coalition said those "fighting to `Close The Loopholes' since 2019, are absolutely gutted and distraught to hear that this legislation has been consciously delayed and will not be passed in time for the recess".

"This is simply devastating for families."