Parties clash on Northern Ireland budget

Northern Ireland’s political parties look set for a head on collision amidst warnings from the Executive’s finance minister of substantial budget cuts to come.

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Northern Ireland’s political parties look set for a head on collision amidst warnings from the Executive’s finance minister of substantial budget cuts to come.

The failure of the Assembly to agree on welfare reforms means that Northern Ireland now faces a £100 million cut to its budget which will need to be tackled next month, according to DUP finance minister Simon Hamilton.

Proposing 1.5 per cent budget cuts, Hamilton has told the BBC in no uncertain terms:

“It’s a matter for the executive ultimately to agree what it wants to do to deal with £100m of reductions because of a failure to move forward with welfare reform.

“If you were to do that on a pro rata basis and take it off all departments, you’d have health suffering to the tune of between £40m and £50m, you’d have education suffering around £20m in cuts and you’d have Deti which deals with jobs and the economy suffering £2m to £3m.”

But Sinn Fein’s education minister, one of Hamilton’s ‘colleagues’ in the executive, has accused the DUP of failing to stand up for the interests of Northern Ireland against the cuts being imposed on it by the UK government.

Referencing reports that David Cameron has hosted a lavish reception for DUP MPs in an attempt to woo them in anticipation of needing their Commons votes after the next general election, John O’Dowd said of the finance minister’s warnings:

“The discussion we should be having, as an executive, is how to present a united front to the British government and stand up to them over these cuts.

“Instead of the DUP having hot dogs and champers with the British government at Downing Street last week, what they should be doing is working with their executive colleagues to ensure the worst aspects of welfare reform are not imposed upon this society.”

Whilst the SDLP dubbed the UK government’s welfare reforms as an “absolute disaster”, the UUP have attacked Sinn Fein and the DUP for failing to work properly together. Meanwhile, the Alliance leader David Ford has declared that “we have no realistic option to make anything other than the minor changes that were agreed months ago, and it’s time that was accepted”.

Providing his analysis of the situation, BBC Northern Ireland political reporter Stephen Walker has written:

“After next Thursday’s European and local government elections, the political focus will switch back to Stormont.

“Intensive discussions are expected next month about welfare changes and the new budget.

“One senior source told the BBC that if the parties did not make significant progress, the Executive would be in deep trouble.

“If this new budget does not get through, a senior civil servant has the power to set a 95 per cent budget, but that is seen by some as a last resort.”

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