The issue of public spending cuts has loomed over the General Election campaign, both here and across the water. Political Editor David Gordon spells out the questions that must be addressed
What about us?
There has been talk from some quarters in this election about parties defending public spending in Northern Ireland — and even lobbying for more.
The blunt truth is that cuts are coming, whoever wins the General Election.
It is fanciful to imagine the province avoiding the big squeeze. The days of special pleading because of the Troubles are over — and politicians who go on international tours to laud the success of the peace process are not well placed to fall back on such pleading. The only issues are how much will be cut, when the axe will start falling, and where it will hit.
As money gets tighter over the next couple of years, expect household water charges to be back on the agenda.
The cost to the Stormont Executive of delaying water charges has been put at £200m a year.
That kind of money could come in useful for hard-pressed public services.
But it’s unlikely to go ahead without unanimity around the Executive table.
There’s also the small matter of an Assembly election next year, and the fact that voters may well remember the parties who stood at the last Stormont poll vowing undying opposition to water charges.
There is a cross-party consensus that corporation tax — a tax on company profits — should be slashed in Northern Ireland to match the Republic's rate of 12.5%.
But there is a major difference of opinion over funding arrangements.
The DUP and Sinn Fein argue it can be done without any reduction in the Northern Ireland block grant — the money annually allocated to the Executive from the Treasury.
That still assumes the Treasury buying into the idea — something it showed no enthusiasm for when finances were less stretched.
The majority view is that EU law requires a corporation tax cut to be paid for through a block grant decrease.
No one has yet spelt out exactly where the money would be found, and it could involve hundreds of millions a year. One way to keep the cost down would be to target a corporation tax cut on particular sectors of the economy.
It's the politics stupid
Given that there are now five parties in the Stormont Executive, deciding on future public spending priorities will undoubtedly be a big challenge.
Imposing a standard percentage cut across all departments will mean health losing the most money, as it has the largest budget.
The General Election campaign in Britain has witnessed pledges to protect the NHS, schools and policing from cutbacks.
However, any such ring-fencing policies would not automatically apply in Northern Ireland, as these areas are controlled by the Assembly.
With rival parties controlling different Stormont departments, it's hard to see how any Minister can avoid shouldering a share of the cutback pain.