Belfast Telegraph

Leaders to press Osborne over cuts

Northern Ireland's political leaders are to meet Chancellor George Osborne to argue for special treatment when it comes to central government cuts.

Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has predicted a £2 billion cut in his spending plans when Mr Osborne reveals his much-anticipated spending review on October 20.

But First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will use a meeting at the Treasury in London to argue the case for leniency.

Both men have said Northern Ireland faces unique challenges, given the legacy of decades of conflict, the region's above-average levels of deprivation, plus the need to rebalance its inflated public sector and relatively small private sector.

Mr Robinson has also said that the recent warnings from MI5 over the threat of dissident republican violence strengthened the case for security force budgets in Northern Ireland to be protected.

But Mr McGuinness questioned the security service claims that dissidents posed a threat to Britain, and insisted the focus of the Treasury meeting would be protecting disadvantaged communities from the impact of cuts.

The Sinn Fein representative recently noted that during the general election campaign, Conservative leader David Cameron sparked controversy when he said Northern Ireland's inflated public sector was an example of an area where cuts could be made.

Mr McGuinness said Secretary of State Owen Paterson had countered negative publicity at the time by pledging that the job of balancing Northern Ireland's economy would be a long-term project and would include efforts to develop the private sector.

Sinn Fein has called for the parties represented at Stormont to show a united front in opposition to unfair cuts. But there has been tension with the DUP over issue. DUP Finance Minister Mr Wilson, who is accused by republicans of "rolling over" in the face of threatened cuts, has said he is preparing for the inevitable and has repeatedly criticised his opponents for failing to redraft their budgets.

On Monday, Mr Wilson again criticised fellow ministers he said had yet to supply revised spending plans for a draft budget which he hopes to release after October 20.

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