SINN FEIN and the British government traded blows yesterday, blaming each other for the looming Stormont House Agreement crisis.
The British and Irish governments held talks yesterday afternoon with leaders of the five parties of the Northern Ireland Executive to try to save the faltering deal made last December.
The latest crisis is over Westminster benefits cuts voted through by the former Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2013, which Britain says are a key component of the Stormont deal on further devolution of power to the six counties.
Republican parties Sinn Fein and the SDLP have vetoed the implementation of the new benefits system, which they say will hit the most vulnerable in society.
But the government has insisted that the reforms are necessary and must be introduced if the rest of the agreement is to be implemented.
In a thinly-veiled attack on Sinn Fein and the SDLP, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said “deficit deniers” who think they could “simply go on spending money without any regard to the consequences” represented a “real danger” to public services.
In an article in the Irish News newspaper, Ms Villiers said if some did not want Northern Ireland to be subject to national spending settlements then the alternative would be “complete fiscal autonomy.”
Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy also accused Ms Villiers of being in “denial.”“The present difficulties facing the executive are the direct consequence of Tory austerity cuts and their attempts to impose further welfare cuts on the most vulnerable in society,” he said.
“The British government is planning another £25 billion of cuts to public services and welfare yet Theresa Villiers continues to refuse to spell out the impact of these cuts on the people of the north.”
"She is clearly in denial of the role of her government’s austerity policies in provoking the crisis and there is no indication she is serious about addressing the key issues.”Mr Murphy said the Tories had “no mandate” in Northern Ireland for their cuts.
“The local parties need to make it clear that Tory cuts to public services and the welfare state are unacceptable.”