Bitterness and acrimony over Northern Ireland budget

Ulster Unionist Party health minister Michael McGimpsey has been forced to deny that he intends to resign following a series of high profile spats with ministerial colleagues on the Stormont Executive.

Ulster Unionist Party health minister Michael McGimpsey has been forced to deny that he intends to resign following a series of high profile spats with ministerial colleagues on the Stormont Executive.

In December, the Democratic Unionist Party finance minister, Sammy Wilson, published a draft budget which included plans for cuts to the Department of Health of £113.5 million. It led to serious concerns being voiced publicly by the health minister who explained:

“I’m not satisfied, I have not agreed that. I made it quite clear to Sammy Wilson and the Executive colleagues I do not agree that.

“Whilst you can bandy figures around, weasel words over percentages, the fact is health’s the big loser over this, losing over £100m in monies from a budget that is already seriously under-resourced.”

McGimpsey’s remarks were just one in a series of outspoken attacks the on Wilson for failing to adequately provide for the health service in Northern Ireland, a spat which has reached new levels.

Speaking over the weekend, first minister Peter Robinson argued that if more money were available, the health service would not be the top priority, citing other departments as having greater needs.

And following the Health Minister’s description of the executive as “dysfunctional”, Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinsess, told UTV last week:

“Michael McGimpsey has continually used the health service in a cynical attempt to undermine the Executive; he was and remains a semi-detached member of these institutions. The community are rapidly losing confidence in his ability to run the department as it lurches from one crisis to another.

“The reality is that Michael McGimpsey has sat on numerous Executive papers, including cross-border papers, which would deliver significant efficiencies and savings. Instead he constantly looks to his Executive colleagues to continue and bail him out.”

Speaking to the Newsletter, however, McGimpsey has explained that he has no intention of resigning, despite the open split that now exists on health spending. He told the paper:

“I have a duty to deliver health and social care to the population of Northern Ireland. My brief is to deliver that care, free at the point of delivery. That is my principle, I am sticking to it and will continue to do so.

“It is unfortunate under the draft budget the executive are not according the sufficient resources to allow me to do that but I shall battle on.”

His remarks come amidst growing acrimony at Stormont over a budget that SDLP leader Margaret Richie has dubbed “lazy and unimagainative”, with SDLP social development minister Alex Attwood arguing:

“The recent aggressive behaviour displayed by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness towards those who dissent from their draft budget is very disturbing and is not a healthy or clever way to conduct politics.

“Those who have criticised the budget such as the SDLP, Ulster Unionist ministers and others do so because there is much to be critical of. But the reason Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are acting in this way is because they know there is much public anger about this draft budget.

“They have settled on a strategy of attacking critical voices in order to distract from the wildly-held view that they have failed to produce a budget fit for purpose.”

With the executive due to meet on Thursday, and members of the Assembly due to vote on the budget plans next Monday, UTV’s Political Editor, Ken Reid, has previously tweeted:

“Crunch day for Health Minister and Executive next Thursday. No extra cash will probably see UUP walking from Executive. Crisis time.”

And on Monday last week, the Alliance challenged the SDLP to leave the Executive altogether if they felt they could not support the budget.

As politicians continue to battle out what is fast turning into a battle of attrition, it is perhaps the clearest possible reason for UUP leader Tom Elliott’s call last week for an end to the legal obligations to form coalitions in Northern Ireland.

With elections now a matter of weeks away, there are few signs that the temperature at Stormont looks set to cool.

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7 Responses to “Bitterness and acrimony over Northern Ireland budget”

  1. Look Left – Tripoli tyrant hangs on - but for how long? | Left Foot Forward

    […] Ireland: Left Foot Forward reported the remarkable spat over the health budget, with Ulster Unionist Party health minister Michael […]

  2. Liathain

    The Assembly is a consociational setup – a mandatory coalition. It’s fundamentally different from Westminster or the Dail.

    While most parties support a move towards the more traditional system of government and opposition benches we don’t have that at the moment (actually on an asides, Sinn Fein are against having an opposition in the Assembly but believe its vital for democracy in the Republic, consistent eh? anyhow…)

    In a consociational setup the opposition will of course come from within – sharing the power, means sharing the opposition.

    It’s actually pretty galling that of all the parties the Alliance are calling for critical voices to quit the executive as David Ford styled himself not so long ago as leader of the opposition. Still that was before the Ministerial carrot appeared and they seem to have followed the well trodden career path of poacher turned gamekeeper.

    On the budjet the simple fact is that mere months before an election the Executive is trying to push a 4 year budget through the Assembly, a budget which the description of and detail within is ridiculous, a budget which allows no room for adjustment, is singularly unimaginative in its approach and has been slammed by economists, the unions, the media, the CVS and academics.

    I’m glad to see people of whatever tradition stand up and argue that it’s not good enough. This is real politics, something we’ve lacked for too long in NI. While everyone laments the divide along constitutional issues and longs for a left right political spectrum as soon as an issue comes along and politicians act this way the major parties rain damnation upon them, and thats not confined to the local ones either.

    During a very similar time of executive disgruntlement (devolution of policing and Justice) I recall seeing Shaun Woodward speaking at a fringe at the 2009 BLP Conference in Brighton.

    During the fringe Shaun mentioned that while all other ministries were distributed by d’Hondt it was agreed by SF and the DUP that this one would not be. When asked what the major constitutional parties thought about this, he admitted that he hadn’t invited them to the talks surrounding that decision.Shaun then went on to describe the SDLP and UUP as peace process wreckers for complaining that they hadnt been invited.

    The sheer mental acrobatics required to get to that position is in itself remarkable.

    Trite as it may be to say, peace is not merely the absence of war. What we require is a stable functioning democracy in which everyone has a stake. Allowing the two historically militant parties to throw a strop every so often and rewrite the GFA (which is after all an international treaty endorsed by referendum unlike St Andrews or the Hillsborough talks) may keep them happy but it’s hardly fostering a good democratic environment.

    So fair play to the UUP and the SDLP for raising serious concerns

  3. Will Stormont hold together on budget proposals? | Left Foot Forward

    […] proposals, however, have failed to satisfy UUP health minister Michael McGimpsey, who has long argued that the executive is failing to meet the needs of the Northern Ireland Health Service. As UTV’s […]

  4. UUP renew calls for opposition at Stormont | Left Foot Forward

    […] Bitterness and acrimony over Northern Ireland budget – Ed Jacobs, February 22nd […]

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