Belfast Telegraph

'I already fear for the next Budget'

By Noel McAdam

Fears are growing that the Executive will not be able to agree a new Budget next year – a dispute that could lead to a full-blown Stormont crisis and senior civil servants taking decisions instead of elected politicians, the finance minister has warned.

The extension of the Assembly term by a year, until 2016, means ministers will have to hammer out a deal for the next financial year.

"If the June monitoring round is anything to go by, I think we are going to find the Budget extremely difficult," Mr Hamilton said.

"If we get to April 1 next year without a full and proper budget in place, then departments will not be able to spend money and we would not be able to operate. Permanent secretaries would have to come in at that point."

He said he believed Sinn Fein MLAs would begin to feel pressure from their constituents as spending cuts begin to affect services.

"They might see themselves as standing against the tide, in championing their stand against welfare cuts. But once the tide hits and then goes over your head it is very different," he said.

After just over a year in office, Mr Hamilton said: "I am not the kind of finance minister I want to be but I am the finance minister I have to be. We cannot shy away from taking the hard decisions – and we won't."

He hit out at Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who claims the DUP are "dancing to the tune of the Tories" on welfare reform. Mr Adams said last week: "We will oppose welfare reform, and it isn't 'welfare reform', it's cuts in the entitlement of citizens, it's led by a very narrow Tory ideological position."

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