Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Nick Clegg vows to revisit Northern Ireland cuts

Deputy PM Nick Clegg is welcomed to Stormont Castle, Belfast, by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
Deputy PM Nick Clegg is welcomed to Stormont Castle, Belfast, by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has pledged to look again at the level of spending cuts proposed in Northern Ireland.

The commitment from the Liberal Democrat leader comes amid claims from Stormont ministers that a major raid on the region's capital expenditure budget would break a deal struck during the peace process.

On his first visit to Belfast since taking office, Mr Clegg held talks with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on how the coalition Government's spending review on October 20 would hit Northern Ireland.

"The First Minister and Deputy First Minister raised with me in very clear terms their concerns about the possible impact of the deficit reduction plan we are setting out on capital expenditure in Northern Ireland," he said outside Stormont Castle.

"I have said that I will go away with colleagues in the coalition Government to look at this." He added: "We understand their concerns, we'll look at them but obviously I can't provide detailed assurances now because everything is still being decided upon before October 20."

Mr Clegg met Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson and Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness hours after the Stormont executive joined forces with the Welsh and Scottish administrations to warn the Treasury not to cut too much from their block grants too soon.

But Northern Ireland's political leaders have also put an additional argument to the coalition, claiming a cut to their capital budget would break an £18 billion ten-year investment pledge made by the last Labour government as part of the peace negotiations.

The 2006 St Andrews Agreement, which paved the way for the DUP and Sinn Fein to share power, incorporated a joint deal between the British and Irish governments to fund infrastructure projects in the region.

While the Dublin authorities insist they remain committed to the multi-billion package, despite the country's severe economic woes, there has been no such undertaking from Downing Street, which has questioned whether Gordon Brown made a promise he could not keep.

The suggestion that at least half a billion could be sliced from Stormont's capital budget - on top of a £1.5 billion cut in its revenue allocation - has left Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness furious - with both men claiming the St Andrews' pledge should see Northern Ireland treated as a special case.

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