Northern Ireland's coalition partners the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein are at odds on cuts - with a very public spat this week opening up old wounds.
As Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers expressed their belief that the Chancellor would be “flexible” in implementing the forthcoming cuts to Stormont, concerns grew back homs over splits within the executive over its stance on the Coalition’s cuts. Speaking following their meeting with George Osborne and Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and his Sinn Fein Deputy, Martin McGuinness sought to put on a united front.
Mr Robinson sought to strike a constructive note, saying:
“In what was a very useful meeting with the Chancellor, we again reiterated the need for the Government to substantively support our efforts to grow our private sector. The Coalition Government in Westminster is already on the record saying that it wants to rebalance the local economy.
“We will continue to press them to deliver the sort of support that will make that happen, we need more than words.”
While Mr McGuinness said:
“Less local spending power would have an inevitable knock-on effect for the private sector. Rebalancing the economy would be even more difficult and that is why the Coalition must be careful not to make a bad situation worse.
“Government contracts currently support more than 40% of the construction industry – we have had record levels of spending on infrastructure since devolution, double the amount spent under direct rule.”
Despite attempting to take a united position to the Treasury, back in Northern Ireland divisions between both Sinn Fein and the DUP were laid bare for all to see.
Following DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson’s description earlier this month of Sinn Fein ministers being “irresponsible voices” over what he described as unrealistic plans to address the £2 billion of cuts being faced by Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has launched an attack on Mr Wilson.
Launching a Sinn Fein campaign against the cuts, Adams declared:
“Sammy Wilson does not speak for the Executive on this issue. He speaks as an individual on this issue, he is even speaking contrary to his party.
“You cannot slash or cut your way out of a recession. The notion that we can cut public services, that you can slash your way out of recession is cover for a deeper ideological British Tory agenda to kill off the welfare state.”
Responding, Sammy Wilson branded Gerry Adams an “economic illiterate”.
The division has led the Belfast Telegraph to warn in an editorial:
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“At a time when the Executive should be speaking with one voice, putting forward a cohesive and coherent argument against implementing cuts on a scale which could plunge the province into a new recession, ministers are divided on their approach. That is a recipe for disaster.”