The final hurdle for the Welfare Reform Bill in Northern Ireland will be passed on 4 February, with a majority report from an ad hoc committee of the Assembly confirming there are no specific human rights or equality grounds on which to delay it.
Politically, this suits all sides. Unionists and Alliance had long cautioned Nationalists against delaying the Bill on the basis of “parity”, which would cost several hundred million pounds to the Northern Ireland bloc grant annually if it were not applied; Nationalists recognise this, but will nevertheless have been seen to push as hard as they can.
Welfare Reform has been a hot topic in Northern Ireland, but somewhat too late – “parity” always meant legislation applying to Great Britain was likely to be applied across the UK; and the basis of the legislation was established in a Green Paper from Great Britain’s Department for Work and Pensions three years ago.
The issue now is implementation, and how to manage Northern Ireland’s significant opt-outs (such as on “Split Payments”).