Northern Executive fails to agree a budget

DUP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance blame Sinn Féin for crisis

The Northern Executive has failed to agree a budget for the rest of this financial year with most Ministers also conceding that they have no notion of how the present crisis can be resolved.

At Stormont Castle this evening, DUP, Ulster Unionist and Alliance Ministers laid the blame for the political deadlock firmly at the door of Sinn Féin who this week blocked the final passage of the welfare bill, while also condemning the SDLP for acting with Sinn Féin to veto the welfare legislation.

Sinn Féin education Minister John O’Dowd responded that the responsibility for the crisis rested with the British governments and its “austerity” policy.

Mr O'Dowd said the Executive Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for a meeting with the British prime minister David Cameron. He said Ministers should collectively meet Mr Cameron and "speak with one voice" to test how a resolution might be found.

“The British government are planning austerity over the next three years, so we need to know what David Cameron’s plans are,” he said.

Otherwise the DUP, UUP and Alliance chiefly blamed Sinn Féin for the deadlock that is threatening the future of the Executive and Assembly.

The DUP Minister of Finance Arlene Foster repeated that for the rest of the year to April 2016 there will be an unsustainable deficit of just over £600 million. No progress was made at the Executive.

She said she directly asked other Ministers about solutions “but none came forward”. She added, “We came out of that Executive meeting as we went in, with no clarity.”

Asked was it inevitable that the permanent secretary of her department would have to take over responsibility in July for the budget she said she hoped to meet British Treasury Ministers and officials next week to “discuss generally the ways forward”.

The DUP health Minister Simon Hamilton said were a budget to proceed his department would suffer an untenable cut of £280 million. He accused Sinn Féin and the SDLP of "stupidity".

The UUP Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said the North was facing "political and financial paralysis which would impact very, very badly on all aspects of government".

He said Sinn Féin and the SDLP were acting with an “air of unreality” which must stop. “There is no way forward charted at this point,” he added.

“If there is no budget the departments will stumble on. Most of them will run out of money by, at the very latest, the end of July, and at that stage there will be a very real financial crisis at the heart of government,” said Mr Kennedy.

Alliance Minister of Justice David Ford confirmed that the budget for the rest of this year will not be moved next week as planned. He said the Executive was now in "uncharted territory". He said the mood of the meeting "varied between almost pretending there wasn't a crisis" and acrimony.

“No,” Mr Ford replied when asked did the Northern Executive take any decision to take any action yesterday.

Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said he visited First Minister Peter Robinson in the Royal Victoria Hospital on Wednesday night, and brought him a bowl of fruit from his (Mr McGuinness's) office. Mr Robinson (66) was admitted to hospital with a heart condition on Monday.

“It was my bowl of fruit, because I hadn’t eaten anything all day yesterday, so I sacrificed that in the interests of the First Minister’s health,” he joked.

“Hopefully he’s on the mend and I would hope he will be out of hospital very shortly,” said Mr McGuinness. “I obviously felt it was important to go and see him and wish him well and his family well.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times