Nick Clegg: I’m acutely aware of Northern Ireland’s financial woes
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said he is “acutely aware” of the particular problems facing Northern Ireland as severe public spending cutbacks loom.
But Mr Clegg also strongly defended his Government's plans to tackle the UK deficit through heavy expenditure cuts.
He was speaking to reporters in Belfast towards the end of a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.
Mr Clegg has agreed to examine the £18bn spending commitments made by the Labour Government for Northern Ireland.
Stormont ministers fear capital funding here will be slashed by up to 50% when the spending review is announced on October 20.
First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness pressed Mr Clegg to honour the Brown commitment in discussions during his Northern Ireland visit.
He said yesterday that a “fully rounded” response would be provided.
Speaking of the Government's deficit reduction plans, Mr Clegg said: “I am acutely aware that what we're doing is controversial and is difficult.
“And I am acutely aware that there are some particular dilemmas and sensitivities in Northern Ireland — an economy that is over-reliant on the public sector and of course a society which has been ravaged by conflict in the past.
“And it would be irresponsible for us not to listen to these representations and not to answer them in a considered way.”
Mr Clegg was speaking after a question-and-answer session with students at Queen's University.
During the discussions, he rejected the case for a slower phasing-in of spending cuts.
He also said it would be unfair to pass the UK's debt to the next generation.
Meanwhile, UUP minister Sir
Reg Empey has said he does not believe the £18bn in capital investment is guaranteed under the St Andrews Agreement.
Sir Reg said: “The actual financial attachment to the agreement is very vague and general.”
Students fail to give Lib Dem chief the third degree
By David Gordon
Student demonstrations are not what they used to be.
Queen's University has witnessed its share of youthful protest action over the years.
But the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday attracted nothing more than a few shouts from four placard-wavers.
The tiny band yelled “Tory, Tory, Tory, Out, Out, Out” when the Lib Dem leader was leaving.
And that was it.
The protesters had just attended an anti-cuts demo in Belfast.
And they explained that the Clegg visit had only been officially announced a couple of hours earlier.
Nevertheless, there would surely have been angrier scenes in the 1980s if a senior member of the Thatcher Government had dropped by amid fears of a massive hike in university tuition fees.
Inside, the questions posed by the audience had been polite and largely non-contentious.
Mr Clegg did get a little tetchy at times — once when an academic challenged the timing of
next year's electoral reform referendum, and also when another accused his Government of “economically illiterate” policies.
But for the most part it was all very civilised.
The Deputy Prime Minister had started the session saying he was “very keen to take your questions, your polemic, your vitriol”.
He will have tougher days.