Assembly passes hard-hitting budget
The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed a hard-hitting budget dealing with billions in cuts from London, but ministers were left divided over the controversial financial plan.
The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the nationalist SDLP, junior partners in the Executive dominated by the DUP and Sinn Fein, opposed the budget.
The package followed a £4 billion cut in the block grant from Westminster and was voted through by the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party, after claims they had off-set the reductions by identifying more than £1 billion of revenue-raising schemes.
But after seven hours of rancorous debate at Stormont, the DUP and Sinn Fein accused the two breakaway parties of playing politics ahead of the May 5 Assembly election.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said it was clear from the start there would not be an all-party agreement over the budget vote.
"When we had the health minister coming in late, leaving early and saying nothing in between it became very clear that the Ulster Unionists were never going to sign up to the budget," he said.
"When we had the posturing of the SDLP and the phoney documents that they brought out which had no substance in reality, it was very clear that they were not going to sign up to a budget."
The UUP holds two ministerial seats in the 15-member Assembly Executive, while the SDLP holds one ministerial portfolio.
And while the parties' ministers opposed the budget plan, they said they would stop short of walking out of government.
Final budget plans earmarked another £432 million for key public services in Northern Ireland.