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Finance Minister Sammy Wilson: Good times over

The good times of increased public spending in Northern Ireland are over, the Finance Minister has said.

Tackling the budget deficit will affect the ministerial Executive for years to come, Sammy Wilson added.

Northern Ireland departments and agencies face making £128 million spending reductions as well as savings already planned because of Westminster action to slash the largest deficit in peacetime history.

Mr Wilson (DUP, East Antrim) said: "The good years of increased year-on-year public spending have come to an end."

Opening a debate on the Northern Ireland budget in the Assembly, the minister called for a new spirit of realism.

He urged committees to examine the budgets of the departments they scrutinise.

"I accept that the appalling and unprecedented national deficit must be tackled - the largest budget deficit in peacetime history - and although not of our making the fall out will impact on this administration for many years to come and we must rise to the challenge," he added.

He said tough decisions lay ahead for the Executive and Assembly and urged any MLAs who may call for more funding for particular areas to put forward sensible ideas, not just for spending but for where finance should be taken from.

David McNarry (UUP, Strangford) said they were wasting millions on rate arrears and highlighted the cost of local government reform. He urged MLAs to work together to try and address budget difficulties.

John O'Dowd (Sinn Fein, Upper Bann) said Northern Ireland needed to build a beneficial economy across the islands, warning that direct water charging would have a detrimental impact on people's health and calling for more investment in improving lifestyles.

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