Belfast Telegraph

The Budget: Cuts plan will be a real tester for Sinn Fein

By Liam Clarke

Will Sinn Fein stick it at Stormont if the Tories get in again? That is the question which follows from George Osborne's announcement of further welfare cuts of £12-13bn across the UK.

Of course, we don't know if Mr Osborne's party will get in, or if he will be chancellor if they do. What we can say is that if these plans are implemented it will be very challenging for the Executive.

Sinn Fein has already said every claimant past and future must be protected against loss. Many will make a gain on the new system but protecting the rest is not something the Tories are going to pay us to do. So, if Sinn Fein is to make good on its pledge, we will have to find the difference from our own block grant. The only way it can do that is to make cuts elsewhere or raise taxes like water rates which both big parties oppose.

There are positive elements in the budget for this region. About £11m a year in Barnett consequentials will go on to our block grant, and holding fuel down also is good for us. Overall though, what is being promised is more years of debt reduction, partly through welfare cuts.

That puts Sinn Fein in a very difficult position. It doesn't take its seats at Westminster and that gives it less influence.

Its main emphasis is on winning next year's Dail election in the south.

Sinn Fein is standing on a platform which claims it successfully resisted cuts here and will do the same in Dublin, but if Mr Osborne's plans are implemented it won't be true. The reduction in tax-free lifetime pension pots from £1.25m to £1m seems aimed at the wealthy but in Northern Ireland it will affect a lot of farms, making succession planning more difficult.

Of course, there will be a chance to take another look at this on May 8 when the election result will be known and how much support is needed to form a government is known.

Then there may be an opportunity for horse trading with the new government. Otherwise it doesn't look good.

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