Gerry Adams says Sinn Fein is willing to let institutions fall before agreeing welfare cuts
Sinn Fein would be willing to allow the Executive to fall and new elections to be called before it imposes budget cuts caused by the welfare stalemate, Gerry Adams has told a US audience.
Speaking on the fringes of the annual meeting of Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation in New York, Mr Adams said he would not like to speculate on whether the Executive would collapse over the budget dispute.
He said: “It isn’t that we want an election but if some of the parties in the North are going to follow this agenda, then let them bring it on to the floor of the Assembly and give the people their say.
“The party’s position is that we should unite as an Executive at telling the British Government that we are not going to impose these cuts,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister has warned that Treasury officials could raise the issue of introducing water charges here or increased rates bills. Simon Hamilton said that any negotiations with the Treasury over the Executive’s budget would not be a ‘one-way conversation’ — and said further delays in ministers making decisions could be “disastrous”.
His warning came as departmental accounting officers moved closer to being able to approve spending decisions.
DUP politicians attempted to focus attention on the financial cliff facing Stormont ahead of the lacklustre Executive meeting.
Mr Hamilton said the questions over the budget represented the most fundamental issue facing the Assembly since the restoration of devolution seven years ago.
But he firmly rejected Sinn Fein and SDLP suggestions that the Stormont parties should unite and enter new negotiations with the Treasury in London.
“Does anyone realistically believe that discussions with HM Treasury would be a one-way conversation? With us asking for what we want and getting it?
“Does anyone think that Treasury wouldn’t want to put things like the fact we have the lowest household taxes in the whole of the UK or that we are the only region in the country not to levy water charges on the table?” he said.
His warning came as Treasury penalties to Northern Ireland’s Block Grant began to kick in, amounting to £87m in the current quarter.
Mr Hamilton added: “The possible answers to the questions aren’t particularly palatable. But decisions are needed now. I have been encouraging the Executive for some weeks now that the situation is so serious that we cannot wait until the formal October Monitoring Round to take these decisions. I have submitted to colleagues a paper including recommendations which, if accepted, give us the best chance we have to avoid a breach of our block grant.”
His predecessor as finance minister, Sammy Wilson, said it was time to put minds to fixing the budget and Sinn Fein needed to make clear how long it would ignore the “gaping hole” and how many public sector redundancies it is prepared to see.