DUP representatives abstained from voting on a Fermanagh and Omagh District Council motion calling for an “immediate halt” to the roll out of Universal Credit across Northern Ireland.

Introduced by the Conservative government at Westminster, Universal Credit is a new benefit replacing means-tested social security benefits and tax credits for people of working age.

The Northern Ireland phase of its roll out commenced in Limavady at the end of September.

Proposing the motion at the local authority’s monthly meeting, SDLP representative John Coyle said that the new benefit had caused “chaos, confusion and hardship” in every community where it had been rolled out.

He said: “I want to make it clear that it is the fault of the DUP and Sinn Féin who, under the Fresh Start Agreement, sent welfare powers back to Westminster, right into the hands of what could be called the worst Tories in the history of Westminster.

“As it currently stands we have 17 Tory MPs in Northern Ireland. Why? Because they don’t care about the most vulnerable in our society and more worried about lining their own pockets.”

In his motion, Mr. Coyle called on the Council to commit to writing to party leaders urging them to work together to deliver a system that was “fair, practical and compassionate”.

Seconding the motion, his party colleague, Patricia Rogers, said that Universal Credit would result in many people “struggling to manage”.

DUP Councillor, Raymond Farrell, said he was “a bit disappointed” by the SDLP man’s comments relating to his party.

He said: “Sinn Féin can speak for themselves. But let me reassure him that I am in the pocket of no Tory and when it came to voting on nurses’ pay rises, tuition fees and pay cap we voted against them.”

Mr. Farrell said it was also disappointing that there was no Minister in place locally to “fight, challenge and advocate” on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland on this matter.

He added: “But I have to say at least when we had an Executive we did receive very significant funding for mitigation to help and support the most vulnerable. I think that has to be commended.”

Mr. Farrell told the chamber that the DUP would be abstaining from the vote on the motion at this point as they wanted to see what effect the mitigation measures would have.

However, the DUP was the only party in the Chamber not to give their backing to the motion.

The UUP’s Howard Thornton said that his party wanted to see the roll out of Universal Credit suspended.

Mr. Thorton said that the introduction of the new benefit had been “riddled with problems” across the UK.

While Sinn Féin Councillors were upset by what they saw as John Coyle’s attempts to score “cheap political points”, the republican party also gave their support to the motion.

Enniskillen Councillor Debbie Coyle said the Council needed to contact the British Government directly on the matter.

She also proposed an amendment to the motion, calling on the Council to condemn the “disgraceful and repugnant” so-called ‘rape clause’ exception, which imposes a two-child limit on Universal Credit recipients unless a woman can show she has been raped.

In her proposed amendment, which was seconded by Sinn Féin’s John Feely, Ms. Coyle further condemned the ‘rape clause’ as “deeply harmful” to women and children, and a fundamental violation of women’s human rights.

The amended motion was passed after gaining the support of the SDLP, Sinn Féin, UUP and independent Councillors.