DUP, Sinn Fein criticise 8% budget rates increase

 

Republicans, Alliance and anti-agreement unionists have criticised the Northern Executive's budget for next year because of its proposal to increase rates well above inflation.

In a debate on the budget, Mr Nigel Dodds of the DUP moved an amendment calling for the increase in the regional rate to be dropped from 8 per cent to the level of inflation. The amendment said removing funding from North-South bodies could pay for this.

Mr Dodds's colleague, Mr Peter Robinson, said the money for the bodies was being "squandered and wasted simply to bolster up the political agenda of those pursuing the republican cause".

Mr Dodds compared the rates increase with a similar rise in electricity prices. In that case, there had been "outrage and concern and alarm expressed again on all sides of this house," he said.

"Yet we have the Minister coming today on behalf of those parties who support him in the Executive to lay before this House a proposal which will have the effect of an inflation-busting 8 per cent rise in the regional rate on top of what has gone before, and with more planned in the pipeline."

Mr Dodds criticised Sinn Fein, which moved its own amendment also calling for the rate increase to be kept to that of inflation, but with the difference being made up from other sources.

Mr Dodds claimed the DUP's ministers had not approved the decision in the Executive but Sinn Fein Ministers had done so.

Sinn Fein's chief whip said his party was reluctantly opposing next year's increase.

Mr Alex Maskey said his party colleagues on the Executive, Mr Martin McGuinness and Ms Bairbre de Brun, "were prepared to support the budget in its entirety".

Mr Mark Durkan, the Minister of Finance, said the Executive had strengthened spending in a number of areas but added: "if we wish to do more then we must will the means to do more. That is why the Executive has held to the proposed increase in the regional rate, unpopular though that may be."

Mr Seamus Close of the Alliance party condemned the rates rise but accused both Sinn Fein and the DUP of "squirming, Pontius Pilate-like" to disown their own budget.