Ritchie: “Budget fails the people of Northern Ireland”

In a process marked by sharp exchanges between ministers, divisions which have been evident at Stormont over its four-year budget were laid bare for all too see, reports Ed Jacobs.

In a process marked by sharp exchanges between ministers, divisions which have been evident at Stormont over its four-year budget were laid bare for all too see, with MLAs yesterday voting to approve a package to address the £4 billion cut to its block grant from Westminster.

Since the initial budget proposals were published in December, finance minister Sammy Wilson has sought to portray himself as the responsible one, prepared to take the tough decisions needed based on a poor hand dealt by Westminster; in stark contrast, the UUP’s health minister, Michael McGimpsey, has previously made crystal clear his strong objections to the settlement for the health department, fearing the likely effect it would have on health care across Northern Ireland.

And so, as MLAs took part in a lengthy seven hour debate, it became clear early on that neither the SDLP or UUP would be backing the budget, including their ministers on the executive.

Outlining her party’s objections, SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie explained:

“As it stands this DUP/Sinn Fein/Alliance Budget if passed in its current form would mean more than 9,000 public service job losses, a pay freeze for almost 7,400 civil servants earning less than the average industrial wage and the potential introduction of a hike in student fees.”

Adding:

“This budget fails the people of Northern Ireland. It is a formula for thousands of job losses and it will heap a mountain of misery on vulnerable households.”

In an equally stinging attack, the UUP’s finance spokesman David McNarry said:

“They are not proposals for a budget in a real sense but proposals based entirely on statements of intent which are in themselves based on wing-and-prayer assumptions, assumptions which cannot be stood over, which are not proven to be deliverable and have been effectively cut to ribbons by a growing list of notable economists and other bodies such as Age NI, the Royal College of Nurses, the Construction Employers’ Federation, the CBI and NIPSA.

“So this is budgeting on the hoof. Ownership of the cuts belongs only to the DUP and Sinn Féin parties in this house.”

But if anyone had thought that MLAs would kiss and make up following the vote, they were proved wrong as all sides continued to go on the offence.

For the DUP, its leader and first minister Peter Robinson sought to highlight the UUP’s links with the Tories to accuse them of hypocrisy in voting against the cuts. He explained:

“This budget does not contain all we would like it to because the Tory cuts have been so vast and so deep.

“The hypocrisy of the UUP complaining about cuts they urged people to vote for will not be lost on the people. We are taking our government responsibilities seriously: other parties for their own selfish cynical reasons have chosen to run off to the sidelines, offering no alternative way forward.”

Margaret Ritchie, however expressed her sadness that the assembly had failed to properly use the opportunities devolution presented Northern Ireland to protect it from the worst effects of Westminster’s cuts. She continued:

“DUP/Sinn Féin have rail-roaded through a budget for the next four years which simply reflected what has been handed down from London. There has been no real attempt to prevent the £4 bn of Tory cuts.

“This will cause job losses and hardship for a lot of people and the SDLP believe we could have done more to stop it.”

As Stormont prepares for dissolution at the end of the month, May’s elections will be dominated by the continued divisions over the budget and the cuts imposed. But despite the seriousness of the issues involved, perhaps the mere fact that Northern Ireland’s elections will be dominated by the same talk of cuts being debated across the rest of the UK is a sign of the progress that has made towards a ‘normalisation’ of Northern Ireland’s politics.

11 Responses to “Ritchie: “Budget fails the people of Northern Ireland””

  1. Ed Jacobs

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ritchie: “Budget fails the people of Northern Ireland” http://bit.ly/f6NZR9

  2. Éoin Clarke

    The SDLP might be affiliated to the Labour Party and their votes in the HoC are of course welcome, but they are a Bourgeois Catholic Party. I recently completed my PhD on NI political history and have studied what the SDLP stand for in detail.

    They at present are suffering sour grapes. They are the fourth largest party in NI and becomming increasingly irrelevant. their flirtations with ending the consociational arrangement at stormont spell danger for ordinary working class people. The DUP and SF have the support of the majority of the votes. They are two old foes once diametrically opposed to each other. It stands as a great credit to them that they wish to put the interests of the people of NI first and avoid descent into violence or blood shed. SDLP grandstanding puts all of that at risk. They don’t care about the future of NI citizens, they only care about their own electoral fortune.

    Nobody in NI wanted cuts. Had GB won the election he would have ensured a continue path to growht that would have negated the need for cuts of this scale. They are going to have a damaging effect on NI of that there is no doubt.

    But blame the Tories, not the ordinary people of NI who vote DUP/SF to get the deal done.

    The SDLP not for the first time are vastly out of touch.

  3. Éoin Clarke

    For the avoidance of any doubt, I am a Labour Party member but I reside in Belfast.

  4. Newsaccess

    Ritchie: “Budget fails the people of Northern Ireland” – Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/hFhQ5Z

  5. Rebecca Sugrue

    Ritchie: “Budget fails the people of Northern Ireland”: In a process marked by sharp exchanges between ministers… http://bit.ly/gNwRkB

  6. Edward Jacobs

    Eoin – does it not strike you thought as strange that Sinn Fein who claim to aim for a united Ireland seem so divided over cuts.

    In the North they seem to be prepared to support them whilst in the South, Gerry Adams led the fight against them during the election campaign then.

    Surely if Sinn Fein were after a united Ireland they sould have a united, principled stance?

  7. Éoin Clarke

    Ed,

    No- not at all. You play the cards you’re dealt with. Cuts are happening whether the executive want it or not.. we had a stalemate over P & J and it was energy sapping. We cert. don’t want the chamber being suspended. In an ideal world, no party [bar the UUP perhaps] would be cutting in NI.

    We should be proud that SF/DUP are standing shoulder to shoulder on this.

  8. Kerry Jenkins

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ritchie: “Budget fails the people of Northern Ireland”: http://bit.ly/hymcuQ reports @EdJacobs1985

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  10. Liathain

    Eoin just a few questions.

    From my scattered conversations with members of Labour in NI I thought they were in favour of abandoning designation and the rest of the ‘ugly scaffolding’ in the Assembly. Why do you think ending consociationalism would spell danger for the working class? Would it really lead towards a return to the bloodshed of the past?

    When the Assembly fell in the past it wasn’t due to parliamentary difficulties it was to do with extracurricular activities as it were – eg allegations of SF spy rings etc. I certainly don’t remember the SDLP ever pulling it down. Similarly the energy sapping Hillsborough Talks (and St Andrews before) were a product of DUP/SF – the other parties weren’t even invited (although Alliance were brought in during the last days to take the Ministry). So what’s changed?

    As a member of the Labour Party how in policy terms are the SDLP a ‘Bourgeois Catholic Party’ (pas même les petites – mon dieu!)? What are the differentials between the SDLP and the BLP that make you condemn one and support the other?

    Finally on the assertion that ‘you play they cards you’re dealt’ – politics isn’t a game of poker and as Ed alluded to, you ought to take a stance on principle, not because of the turn of a card. If we are to be honest we’d agree that Gerry and the boys positioned themselves for opposition in the Republic and government in Northern Ireland. It was not on principle nor was it being unified, it was merely opportunistic grandstanding.

    The SF/DUP standing shoulder to shoulder in removing funding for community transport schemes or attacking the Equality Commission is not something I can imagine myself being proud of.

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