Ill-tempered outbursts marked the unveiling of Northern Ireland’s revised four-year Budget as MLAs prepare for a final vote next week.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed he had an additional £400m to hand out, but came under fierce verbal fire from Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.
The extra cash comes from an envisaged rise in rates receipts due to increased revenue collection, around £25m already being held in reserve, an “over-commitment” of £30m-a-year on both current and capital spending, as well as a planned levy on out-of-town shopping developments and other measures.
Mr Wilson said the package was proof “of the growing maturity in our political system, in |that we can produce a fair and |balanced Budget for a four-year period even in the face of |imminent elections and Ulster Unionist Party-inspired cuts in the Assembly.”
But the UUP benches loudly jeered every time Mr Wilson linked them to their former electoral partners, the Conservatives, whose coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats decided on a £4bn share of public spending cuts for Northern Ireland.
Ulster Unionists insist the economic problems facing the country were the responsibility of the former Labour Government.
But Mr Wilson accused them of cynical posturing for the forthcoming Assembly elections and dubbed the UUP Executive members — Health chief Michael McGimpsey and Employment and Learning boss Danny Kennedy — as ministers “who could not take ‘yes’ for an answer”.
Ulster Unionists, however, argued that even the extra resources failed to meet the needs of the health service identified by Mr McGimpsey and senior officials even though he and Mr Kennedy are among the main beneficiaries.
Ulster Unionist finance spokesman David McNarry said: “It is good that the minister has found an extra £400m, but still very worrying how he missed it in the first place.”