Stormont borrowing powers hailed
Stormont's enhanced borrowing powers are the envy of Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland's Finance Minister has claimed.
Simon Hamilton hit back at critics who warned that the Executive's £1.8 billion debt burden was a mortgage on the future of the country.
The DUP minister said: "On the face of it, that is a lot of money.
"It compares unfavourably if you do a per head of the population calculation compared to the other devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.
"It is worth noting that both Scotland and Wales would like to be able to borrow more. Particularly in Wales."
After the Stormont House deal, which was agreed in December, borrowing is set to increase to £1,000 per head of population - twice the upper limit of comparable Scottish debt.
Mr Hamilton claimed the £1.8 billion had financed infrastructure projects which otherwise would not have gone ahead; met costs associated with the Northern Ireland Civil Service equal pay claim; and helped fund a rescue package for savers with the failed Presbyterian Mutual Society.
He also claimed the £700 million for a four-year voluntary redundancy scheme for public servants would generate significant long-term savings.
The DUP minister said: " The £700 million flexibility that we are allowed with our RRI (Reinvestment and Reform Initiative) borrowing to borrow specifically for a voluntary exit scheme will save for every £100 million we spend around £60 million.
"So about half a billion pounds for that £700 million will be saved.
"And that obviously puts a very different complexion upon borrowing moving forward, than it might have done moving forward without that payback that will come from a voluntary exit scheme."
Last week Stormont arch-critic Jim Allister described £1.8 billion of debt as a "frightening millstone" around Stormont's neck.
Most of the smaller parties on the Executive voted against the budget which was passed with support from the DUP and Sinn Fein.
It includes an additional £204 million for the Department of Health to help protect frontline services and an extra £65 million for the Education Department on top of that already allocated in an earlier draft budget to alleviate pressure on classrooms.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment received £3 million for job creation agency Invest NI while the Department for Regional Development was given £5 million for bus services in towns and road repairs and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is to receive £1.5 million for victims' services.