Welfare Reform Bill: Final Stage (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Whilst the Bill had the popular support of the Assembly with 58 votes in favour to 39 against the application of a Petition of Concern from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Green Party meant that the Bill did not pass.
As the debate lasted almost 10 hours we have gathered together some of the key quotes from the debate:
The Minister for Social Development, Mervyn Storey (DUP):
In setting out the principles behind the bill and why Final Stage is happening the Minister said:
“I believe that, if we adhere to the two fundamental principles that work pays and that the welfare system supports, we will go some distance in providing a better welfare system.”
“I firmly believe that the time for talking is now over. I believe that now is the time for decisions and for getting on with the implementation of reforms. Unfortunately, the fiscal reality for Northern Ireland is that we cannot afford a more expansive and expensive welfare system than the rest of the UK. If we spend more on benefits, the harsh reality is that we will have less to spend on schools, hospitals and all the other public services that we rely on. I believe that, with the mitigation schemes that we have negotiated with DWP, Her Majesty's Treasury and internally in our own political structures, we have achieved that balance between mitigating measures in the Bill and spending on public services for Northern Ireland.”
“It may also be helpful to some Members if I can provide assurances that claimants will be supported throughout the reform process.”
Adding to previous commitment on support for the Advice Sector the Minister stated:
“As Minister with responsibility for the voluntary and community sector, I understand and value the work carried out by the independent advice sector in providing support and guidance to many people in Northern Ireland, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable.”
“I want to ensure that the statutory and voluntary sectors work closely together when welfare reform is implemented. I have asked the agency to put in place a process whereby all claimants who would benefit from advice and/or support on debt or money issues will be signposted to the advice sector. It is important that that is introduced into the guidance for decision-makers, particularly those delivering the discretionary support scheme.”
“I also want to promote the role of the advice sector during the process of the implementation of welfare reform to ensure that claimants understand that independent support and advice is available to support them. The programme of information that my Department will be launching to support welfare reform will include elements that will promote the role of the independent advice sector.”
On Universal Credit and Transitional Protection:
“A package of transitional protection will ensure that there are no cash losers as a direct result of the managed migration to universal credit where claimants' circumstances remain the same.”
On the Bedroom Tax:
“Members will be aware that my party and I have continually opposed the bedroom tax, and we have secured Executive agreement to measures that will protect current and future tenants from any financial impact of the bedroom tax, initially for the entire period of the new Government.”
On the Stormont Castle Agreement and funding for the mitigations agreed
“Let me also put on record my commitment, my party’s commitment and that of my party leader to make the necessary resources available to fund the package of measures that the five parties agreed at Stormont Castle.”
“For disabled people, a disability protection scheme is proposed to help them to transition from disability living allowance (DLA) to the new personal independence payment (PIP). This will provide for a payment equivalent to up to one year’s full DLA payment for people who are unsuccessful in claiming PIP, and it will also guarantee claimants who will receive less under PIP 75% of the shortfall for up to four years. The scheme will also offer victims and survivors who do not qualify for PIP the opportunity to make a claim for a similar payment.”
“For all benefit claimants and families on low working income, there will be a new system of financial help when they have a financial crisis. This will be related to the levels of minimum wage, and the Executive have agreed to maintain the funding for this service.”
“For people who might be impacted by the bedroom tax, now or in the future, there will be full protection from any cuts in housing benefit.”
“For all working-age families receiving universal credit, there will be flexibility in how frequently they receive their benefit and in making direct payments to social landlords. We will also ensure that universal credit payments are made to the main carer in cases where there is concern about the impact of single payments to households.”
“Finally, I turn to the supplementary payment scheme, which has, in some way, led to today’s position. This scheme provides all claimant commitments with full protection. These claimants are families with children, the long-term sick and adults and children with disabilities. It is not accurate for some to claim that my party and I do not support providing protection for those groups.”
“Over the next three years, our proposals will mean that those in need will receive over £200 million more than they would have received under the GB scheme. In UK terms, that is the equivalent of £6 billion. That demonstrates how far we have gone to offset the harsher effects of the UK Government’s reforms.”
Paula Bradley (DUP):
“I believe that the Stormont Castle agreement was the best compromise between facing our responsibilities as elected representatives and protecting the most vulnerable of our electorate. The welfare system was developed from an ideology to help those who could not help themselves; it was designed to be a hand-up and not a handout. Unfortunately, over the years, our system has evolved into one where claimants are finding that they are better off out of work than they are in it and where young people are so disillusioned that they now view the welfare state as almost a career choice.”
“I believe that the supplementary payment scheme in the Stormont Castle agreement will protect those whom the system is designed to help, while those who are capable of supporting themselves will find added impetus to do so.”
Martin McGuinness (SF):
“Our concern is wider and is about the grave implications of the further cuts threatened by the Tories as part of a £25 billion reduction that will be outlined in the July Budget. Obviously, our concern has to be about what proportion of that will affect us.”
“In my view, the measure of any society, and, indeed, of any Government, is how it treats those most in need and those who are most vulnerable.”
“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 that the SDLP has supported our position.”
“It has always been my view that the outstanding issues in the Welfare Reform Bill can be resolved, but this requires political will from all parties in the Assembly to protect the most vulnerable. 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 to give us control over our economy.”
Dolores Kelly (SDLP):
“My party and I recognise the difficulties in setting a Budget and the time constraints that we work within, but it is not yet too late for all parties to get around the same table and thrash out the concerns about welfare reform that we each have. Therefore I ask the DUP to consider the time frame again and whether it would be in the best interests of us all to have a mature negotiation in which all of the parties are included all of the time.”
“The welfare reform debate is about protecting the vulnerable — protecting children and families — but it was SDLP MPs, such as my colleague Alasdair McDonnell and others, who voted against the welfare and benefit caps and sought to amend many of those amendments at Westminster, unlike some other parties. Here, too, we will defend those who are most in need of a voice.”
Roy Beggs (UUP):
“We want to see the sick, the disabled, the working poor, families, children and our older people all being supported whilst adults who are fit to work but currently are unemployed are supported back into the work space. Ulster Unionists very much agree with the belief that people who are fit to work should be better off in work than on benefits.”
“If we do not approve this Bill, there will be even less money for health, less money for education and less money for Departments and other publicly funded bodies.”
“If we choose to deviate from the welfare system that applies elsewhere in the United Kingdom, we will have to pay for it from our block grant. That is the political and economic reality. Fines have been indicated — essentially clawbacks of our deviation to date — of £14 million, then £87 million and then some £114 million this year. The figure is projected to reach £250 million next year, and I understand that the First Minister has said that it could even be £500 million the following year.”
“What would be the implications of all that and other aspects for the Assembly's Budget, which is with our Finance Minister and is due to be brought before the Executive and ultimately the Assembly to finalise it? Well, to balance the Budget, further cuts would have to be announced. I understand reliably that that figure is in the order of £600 million. The community and voluntary sector has already suffered compulsory redundancies. There is no doubt that if the Budget problem deepens even further if the Bill is not approved, there will be thousands of compulsory redundancies, instead of voluntary redundancies, across the public sector. How else do you balance the Budget? There has to be a balancing of the Budget. If the Executive are not prepared to do that, we know that there are mechanisms within the legislation that will pass that responsibility to senior civil servants who will set the Budget at 95% of last year's Budget.”
“Take the health service. Failure to implement welfare reform and finalise the Budget could mean an 8% reduction in the health budget — not an increase to deal with those increasing pressures, such as the growing waiting lists and the delays at our accident and emergency centres.”
“The question to Sinn Féin, today, is very clear: vote for the Bill with all of its local amendments and additional safeguards, or reject it and wait a few months for Westminster to implement it for them, with, potentially, no additional protection.”
“Recently, an official indicated to the Social Development Committee that the ageing UK current social security system cost £1 billion a year to maintain and run. When, eventually, everything transfers to the new system, that system will no longer be required. So, how is Northern Ireland going to run the current social security system with its rules and regulations? What is it going to cost us to maintain that large, burdensome computer system so that we can have the luxury of having different social security rules and regulations here? I have not heard any costs of that. I am not saying that it is going to cost £1 billion, but the administrative burden will cost hundreds of millions of pounds on an annual basis.”
“Let us recognise that there are many positive changes, as the Minister highlighted. The frequency of payment has moved from a monthly universal credit payment to twice monthly. There is provision for split universal credit where there are issues in households. There is the direct payment of housing benefit to landlords to prevent the increasing likelihood of evictions if money that was designed to go to housing benefit was not actually used for housing costs. That is another positive change that was being built in. Then there was the discretionary housing protection. There were other changes, such as the reduction in the maximum period of sanctions from three years to 18 months. Provisions were built in to protect those who have a disability. That was done in a time-limited and proportionate manner. So, significant changes were built into the raw legislation that came here. I am firmly of the belief that, if we do not approve it, somebody else will, at some point, approve a system of welfare reform for Northern Ireland. We do not know whether they will take those mitigations into consideration.”
David Ford (All):
“When I say that I "support" the Bill, it is in the context that Alliance is firmly in opposition to many of the welfare reforms and opposed them in the only place that mattered: the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster.”
“There is much talk about welfare powers being devolved to these institutions. The reality is that welfare powers are not devolved in any genuine sense.”
“The £93 million in the Stormont Castle Agreement that is being put into social security funding will result in a direct cost, if it is proportionate, of between £6 million and £7 million on policing in Northern Ireland, and we could look at many other examples.”
“If people are prepared to throw out the Bill without recognising the effects that doing so will have on those who are most vulnerable in this society and the dangers that lie ahead for public services in general, those who are dependent on those public services and for victims of the past who are expecting something to emerge from the Stormont House Agreement, they really are contradicting the principles of the Good Friday Agreement as well as those of the Stormont House Agreement.”
Gregory Campbell (DUP):
“The reality is that we are where we are. We have got to cut our cloth. People might not like it — I do not like it — but it does not change where we are. We have got to get on, mitigate what we can, do our best for those in need and do our best to secure the best deal — and we have got the best deal in the United Kingdom — or else it gets an awful lot worse.”
Alex Maskey (SF):
“I am speaking for Sinn Féin, which stands for a number of key principles in its involvement with these institutions, including protections for the most vulnerable, a workable Budget that will enable us to deliver on the Programme for Government across all commitments, and the securing of additional powers to allow the Executive and the institutions to grow the economy and create employment.”
“Well, actually, I remind people that the money that is being taken off us by the British Government currently remains in the pockets of those welfare recipients. If it were not for Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others who have been resisting those cuts, those people would have had that money removed from their pockets already.”
“Let us repeat that we are talking about treating with respect the most vulnerable. They include the long-term sick, large families with children who will be affected by the benefit cap, children with disabilities and adults with severe disabilities. Let me make it very clear that the Department's officials gave us figures for those categories: a family with a child on disability premium would lose up to £1,750; ESA time limiting would cost people £5,100; adults with a severe disability premium would lose £4,500; adults with a disability premium would lose almost £1,000; and the benefit cap would impact on some families to the tune of £2,300 or perhaps more. Those are the figures given to us.”
Sammy Wilson (DUP):
“This is an important debate. It is perhaps one of the most important debates that we have ever had in the Assembly. As a result of the decision that the Assembly will make today, we will move into unchartered waters. We do not know constitutionally where this could lead us, and we do not know politically where this could lead us, but the one thing that we do know is that, financially, the consequences of this have been spelt out and spelt out very clearly by the Finance Minister.”
“There was no alternative but to bring this issue to a head.”
“The groups that they asked to be addressed, children with long-term disabilities and people with severe disabilities, are covered by the supplementary fund. A discretionary fund has been set aside to look at the cases of future claimants. Where they merited payment, they would get it.”
“Some 80% of those who will be affected by the changes to universal credit will either be no worse off or better off. Forty per cent, or 80,000, of them will be better off; 40% will be no worse off; and 20% will be less well off — and even they will have transitional protection in that it is only when their circumstances change that they will find that their payments are reduced.”
"Yet, in a Department in which it had control, the Education Minister made a decision without reference to anybody else — and I see the Education Minister is in the House this afternoon — and £1·7 million was taken out of the early years fund. Who has that affected? Who has that punished? That was deliberately a target towards families that are now in a very dire situation. So, when it has the control and the power, it attacks the vulnerable, and that is the accusation that it is making against the rest of us.”
Michelle O’Neill (SF):
“I ask the Minister this: are the cuts of £1,750 to the child disability premium not an adverse effect? In my book, that is most certainly an adverse effect and something that the House needs to be very concerned about.”
“Where is the bedroom paper? Where is the agreement on the disability scheme? Despite the fact that my party clearly flagged up our concerns and the issues that we need to see addressed, that has not been forthcoming. The Minister created the immediate crisis that we are in today by taking the Bill to the Floor, knowing fine rightly that it will not be agreed today.”
Alex Atwood (SDLP):
‘Osborne will use his second Budget of 2015, the one later this year, to outline how he intends to shave about 10% off the £120 billion slice of the welfare budget that is not spent on pensioners…the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that child benefit and disability allowances would inevitably have to be looked at.’
‘…the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that — wait for this — the budgets of unprotected Whitehall Departments such as Justice, Transport and the Home Office, will have been cut by a third, once inflation has been taken into account.’
‘Other leaked documents refer to cutting disability benefits, DLA, PIP and attendance allowance and stating that they would no longer be tax-free. Other proposals suggest that those eligible for carer's allowance could be hit by restricting those eligible for universal credit and so on, concluding with this comment from a newspaper article:
"The Trussell Trust charity has estimated that the number of people reliant on emergency food handed out at food banks had increased by nearly a million people under David Cameron's premiership.
But another reason why people should be worried of Mr Duncan Smith's return to DWP is the charity's calculation that nearly half of all those referred to their local food bank between April and September last year were due to failures in the welfare system — including the stricter benefit sanctions introduced since 2010."
‘That is the only conclusion that I can draw from what I heard, and Mr Agnew has confirmed it. From what I heard the Minister say this morning, the bedroom tax is going to be in place. It may only be in place for a very small number of tenants — we do not know — but it will be in place for that number of tenants. That is not mitigation in full, it is mitigation in full with the safety net withdrawn in the event of a change in personal circumstances or suitable accommodation becoming available.’
Sammy Wilson (DUP):
‘If we volunteer in Northern Ireland to pay higher rates of welfare to our citizens and take that decision as a devolved Administration, that is not paid for by Westminster; we have to pay for it ourselves. I know that the term "fines" has been used, but we are not paying fines. We are paying the difference between a decision that we made here in Northern Ireland and the rates agreed by the Government and Parliament in Westminster.’
‘He will probably say that it is a technicality, but he knows that there are processes that have to be gone through and that it is not practical to leave this until the end of July. Hence the reason why this is not a contrived deadline; it is a genuine deadline that has to be met because the Finance Minister would be irresponsible to leave things to the last minute.’
Mike Nesbitt (UUP):
‘Take a map of the Troubles, such as that in the 1999 'Cost of the Troubles Study', which shows the hotspots of bombings, shootings and all those Troubles-related incidents. If you then take a contemporaneous map of mental health issues as measured by attempted and completed suicides, alcoholism and drug abuse, you have a match. The evidence is there. Our higher rates are directly causally linked to the Troubles. We made those people a promise in the Stormont House Agreement, and we are about to fail to deliver on that promise today. We could have had a triple win. Helping people with mental health issues addresses a legacy of the Troubles.’
Ross Hussey (UUP):
'I am going to quote from the speech made by Pat Doherty, the Member of Parliament for West Tyrone, on welfare reform in the House of Commons —
I am now going to quote from the speech made by Conor Murphy, the Member of Parliament in the House of Commons —
This is how much interest Sinn Féin had for those who voted for them to represent us in Westminster.'
Danny Kennedy (UUP):
'Sinn Féin's cries of anti-austerity simply lack credibility. They continually voted in favour of a Budget that has delivered the severe cuts over the past number of months, and they have presided over those cuts as they have continued to fall across every Department in the Executive. Equally lacking in credibility are their claims that they are standing up for the vulnerable, because today they will set in motion a series of events that will see further drastic cuts to public services that will devastate the vulnerable in our society that Sinn Féin and others purport to defend.'
Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP):
'The SDLP has, since the Stormont House Agreement, sought to amend the Bill at Further Consideration Stage. We sought to strengthen and improve the emerging proposals by tabling a series of honest amendments and engaging constructively in all the implementation meetings that followed. We believe that this latest deadline is ill judged and ill timed and serves only to undermine much of the constructive engagement that we and others have been involved in during the process.'
'There were even five-party meetings at Stormont Castle, but it appears to me that, in the aftermath, with the discussions, anxieties and stories we hear, there was a third set of meetings between Sinn Féin and the DUP that the rest of us were not privy to. Somehow or other, it seems that many of our problems have arisen in that space.'
'The big challenge for all of us here is much wider than welfare. Any movement towards curtailing welfare for vulnerable people at the margins of our society and somehow pushing them towards work requires, for example, a much better and more affordable childcare arrangement to allow young mothers to access work. A lack of adequate childcare here is acting as a major barrier for young mothers who want to work, due to the extra cost of childcare and a lack of reasonable access or availability.'
'There is a clear and real need for economic opportunity to be created and injected in parallel with any changes in the welfare system. It is crazy to talk about people accessing work if there is no work to access. We in the SDLP want a commitment from the two Governments, and, indeed, maybe from Brussels and the US, but from all parties here as well, that we need to be doing more to create more jobs.'
Stephen Farry (All):
'It is very hard to get your head around the stark fact that, after today's vote, if, indeed, parties vote on the basis that they have declared so far, everything will change in Northern Ireland. There will be implications for our political process and our budgeting process. Those implications will be massive and considerable, and the danger is that they will be long-lasting and that all the people of Northern Ireland will pay the price as a consequence.'
'Yes, very much so. We are, essentially, at the mercy of the Conservative Government; that is where people in the Assembly will leave the people of Northern Ireland when it comes to welfare. We have to bear in mind that, as many Members have said, we are not here as a sovereign state; we are here as part of a wider UK. We receive our money from the Treasury, whether through the block grant in DEL money or annually managed expenditure (AME) money. We are dependent upon that. Welfare reform, in practice, is set at a UK level.'
'We regularly hear comments that say, "The Conservatives have no mandate in Northern Ireland, so how dare they do all this?" One of the fundamental tenets of the Good Friday Agreement is the principle of consent, which means that all of us, including those parties that do not wish Northern Ireland to continue as part of the UK, have nonetheless accepted, like everyone else, that it will remain part of the UK. That means that they accept, ipso facto, that a national UK Government set policy on national issues. Welfare is one of those issues. The logical consequence of anyone's support of the Good Friday Agreement is that they recognise that reality, even those parties that want to see a united Ireland. That is the stark reality that they have to accept, and, at the moment, they are failing to do so. The Conservative Party may not have much of a mandate in Scotland and Wales and no mandate in Northern Ireland, but it won the election across the UK as a whole, fair and square, based on the electoral system that is in place.'
'Frankly, if our budgets unravel any further, the notion of the devolution of corporation tax will not be tenable. That is another consequence that we are facing up to.'
'To be very clear, once we hit the Budget figures that we are contemplating or once we are in a situation that the Civil Service begins to put in place a Budget over the head of politicians, devolution itself will be in crisis. I cannot predict how different parties will react to that situation.'
'What we are talking about here is a fundamental challenge that undermines the Good Friday Agreement and rips the heart out of it. If there is no functioning Executive and Assembly, there is no Good Friday Agreement. That is where people are intent on taking us based on the logic of what they are doing… When the petition of concern was lodged on Friday, it was the seventeenth anniversary of the referendum in which 71% of the people of Northern Ireland put their faith in a different future. That future is now having its heart ripped out.'
'Indeed, the only parties with any legitimacy in proposing amendments at Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage were the parties outside the Executive.'
'We have a duty to progress this legislation because the consequences of us not doing so are so dramatic. I am stunned that people do not appreciate the gravity of what is about to unfold if this legislation does not go through.'
Jim Allister (TUV):
'What we are witnessing here today is the fact that the chickens are coming home to roost in the failure of mandatory coalition. Who in the House could stand on their feet to say that the Executive have done anything but fail in the delivery of their executive functions? Tonight, that is indisputably written on the walls of the House — failure on welfare reform, hurtling us to budgetary failure… The sooner those who cling to the coat-tails of the failure of the Executive waken up to the fact that it is not working and is not going to work, the better for us all.'
Steven Agnew (Green):
'I know that the Minister's predecessor was very dismissive of the NICVA report, which was produced on their behalf by the University of Sheffield. It laid out the figures and laid out by how much each benefit would be cut and the direct impact on Northern Ireland. It did not just give the blanket £250 million; it gave its component parts. We have yet to see a refutation of those figures.'
'We hear boasts about the levels of foreign direct investment etc that have been brought into Northern Ireland under this Executive. As a member of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I hear it time and time again. Well, in the lifetime of this Executive, the income gap between Northern Ireland and other regions of the UK has increased.'
'It is worth remembering that we are debating the legislation today. It is not the Stormont House Agreement, the deals around it or the proposed mitigation measures. None of those are in the legislation, which remains virtually unchanged from the day that it came to the Assembly in October 2012. The legislation that we are debating would allow for an 18-month suspension of benefits as a penalty to claimants. For some, that would mean 18 months with no income whatsoever. We have talked about food banks, and that would mean people subsisting purely on the handouts of food banks with no protection from the state for 18 months. If you are unemployed or on disability benefits, you would see those benefits cut for 18 months. That will drive people to destitution and despair, and we have seen examples in Great Britain where it has driven people to their deaths. That is not something that my party can vote for. That is not something that my party could stand over.'
'Let us be clear; there was almost a sort of gratitude that the UK Government would let us introduce our own mitigation measures. I fail to understand that, because, first, welfare is devolved and, secondly, there was no extra money in our block grant out of which the mitigation fund was going to be taken. That was a decision that could have been taken by the Executive without including it in any Stormont House Agreement, tying it to corporation tax or to public sector redundancies: it was completely separate.'
Basil McCrea (NI21):
'This is Groundhog Day. It reminds me of a triple period of Latin: just going over and over the issue. I despair. Not only is the debate irrelevant but it almost says that this place is ungovernable. We cannot get any form of agreement.'
Arlene Foster (DUP):
'Fact three is that this is an enabling piece of legislation; it creates no change in the level of any benefit. It provides legal authority for the Assembly to improve benefit payments and leaves all the decisions about claimants' benefits levels subject to subsequent regulations… Let me spell out to those outside the Chamber what Sinn Féin and the SDLP are doing: they are removing the only mechanism that the Assembly has to improve welfare payments.'
'Let me be clear: my party will not support such severe cuts. Public services would be decimated. Public safety would be endangered. I wonder whether there is anyone in this House who would support £600 million of cuts to health, to education, to victims, to justice services and to job promotion.'
'The inability to set a Budget because of the fall of this Bill would have severe ramifications and would lead to the permanent secretary in the Department of Finance and Personnel imposing even greater cuts.'
'...the Budget that we talked about last week and the hole that is presently there in relation to £604 million of debt arises because of the non-implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, and we will not put our hands to supporting such a Budget, even though I will probably have to bring the figures forward to the Executive this week for discussion. If that is not doable then it falls to the permanent secretary to deal with the issue.'
'I have taken legal advice in relation to the use of accruals and have been told that, whilst the accruals will come in to Northern Ireland, they cannot be paid out, because to do that we would need legal authority under the Budget (No. 2) Bill. Without the Budget (No. 2) Bill there is no legal authority to pay the money out, so, whilst the money will come to Northern Ireland, there is no authority to pay out the accruals that come.'
'There is where the rather large figure of £2·7 billion occurs. It is a very distressing place to be.'
Minister for Social Development, Mervyn Storey (DUP), concluding the debate:
'What I proposed in the Bill was real and affordable support that would have ensured that current claimants would not have suffered any financial loss during the lifetime of the scheme, and that financial support would have been available to future claimants who had not suffered any real loss.'
'What we will acknowledge is that, tonight, the SDLP will join Sinn Féin and bring to an end any measures, mitigations and benefit that would come to the people of Northern Ireland, whose champions they claim to be.'