Sinn Fein Welfare spokesman Mickey Brady has challenged Justin McNulty the SDLP Westminster candidate for Newry and Armagh to a debate on welfare reform.

Responding to allegations Sinn Fein had done a U turn on Welfare reform the Newry and Armagh MLA said his and his party’s stance on welfare reform has always been clear.

“Our position and my position on welfare reform has not changed,” he said.

The Assembly Welfare Reform Bill is a hot potato in the run up the the Newry and Armagh election.
The Assembly Welfare Reform Bill is a hot potato in the run up the the Newry and Armagh election.

“We signed up to the Stormont House Agreement on the understanding that nobody currently in receipt of benefits would lose out as a result.

“We made very clear that this would only work if there was full protection for the vulnerable in our society.

“The DUP has now reneged on those commitments and without them Sinn Fein simply cannot support the bill.

“That has always been our stance.  We will not allow any cuts that would strip benefits from children with disabilities, from adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick, or push children into poverty.

“The way to resolve this is for the DUP’s Minister for Social Development to bring forward schemes for agreement which gives effect to the intent of the Stormont House Agreement by providing full protection for all claimants.

“People know Sinn Fein’s record when it comes to defending the vulnerable and they know my record.  There is no way, after 30 years of fighting for people’s rights in welfare rights centres and in the Assembly, that I would put my name to anything that would strip away those rights.

“It was the SDLP, along with the other parties, who signed up to a lesser agreement, which provided even fewer protections than the Stormont House Agreement. Our party stood firm and demanded a better deal for people.

“If the SDLP candidate in the upcoming Newry/Armagh Westminster election wants to dispute this then let him come forward and do so.  I will debate this and any other issue with him, anytime, anywhere.

“I have never been one for sound bite statements or sniping from the sidelines.  If he wants to challenge me or Sinn Fein on any of the issues in this election then let him come forward and let’s get into it.

“The DUP entered into an agreement with Sinn Fein on welfare reform and a crucial aspect of that was defending those on benefits.  Until the DUP live up to their side of the agreement that bill is going nowhere.

“We are, of course, fully committed to finding a resolution to the problem but only one that stands up for the same people I have always stood up for.”

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