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Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness make 'massive political misjudgment' by attending Ryder Cup during spending crisis

As welfare row rumbles on, threatening to sink the administration, our leaders living it up at the golf

By Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have been accused of a massive political misjudgment after they attended the Ryder Cup during the worst spending crisis in living memory.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister spurned an offer to hold a special Executive meeting to discuss cuts yesterday and instead travelled to Gleneagles in Perthshire

The joint leaders need to find savings of £200m in the next few months.

Stormont's top two had arranged to watch Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell several months ago at the invitation of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.

And they were using the visit to further arrangements for the forthcoming Irish Open competitions in the province in 2015 and 2017.

But Alliance leader David Ford, who with his colleague Stephen Farry suggested the special extra Executive session, said it was "outrageous" they had chosen to watch the prestigious competition in Scotland instead.

"The Executive is facing into a black hole but these two men seem more interested in 18 holes," the Justice Minister said.

The Alliance leader said he believed most people would be "horrified" to learn the First Minister and Deputy First Minister had decided going to Gleneagles was more important than the crisis enveloping the Executive.

At Thursday's regular Executive meeting – which only discussed the crisis under 'any other business' – he and Farry, the Employment and Learning Minister, had suggested a special Friday session to focus on the budget and welfare reform

"We were quite serious about it and prepared to entirely clear our diaries to hold this meeting," Mr Ford told the Belfast Telegraph.

He said Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness had indicated they had another engagement, but did not say they were intending to attend the golf tournament.

"There was no indication this was what it was," Mr Ford added.

"The situation is so serious I am sure I will not be the only person to be horrified that the two men who are charged with leading our Executive think a golf match is more important."

Alex Attwood of the SDLP said: "As a politician, I think people should be applying their minds to the issues back home at this time... I think they should be back here working to resolve the multiple issues that are beginning to emerge."

DUP chief whip Peter Weir MLA said, however: "David Ford knows that the DUP is not the obstacle to agreeing a budget.

"For his own electoral reasons, Mr Ford must feel unable to criticise SF's crazy economic approach without attacking the DUP."

The North Down MLA said Finance Minister Simon Hamilton had circulated a "reasonable" budget paper to Executive colleagues which SF president Gerry Adams was forcing his Executive ministers to ignore.

"Rather than protecting the vulnerable, the SF strategy will see front line cuts including job losses and a reduction in services. Mr Ford should join with the DUP in exposing the devastating economic path which SF is on," he said.

Mr Ford added there had been no sign Sinn Fein ministers wanted to seriously engage with the problem at Thursday's non-event Executive.

"There was a bit of discussion about the need to discuss it, but there was nothing of substance," the Alliance leader said.

There was no comment from Sinn Fein.

Ministers have been told they must find the equivalent of 6% savings across all departments or face the prospect of Treasury intervention to prevent them busting their budgets.

An OFMDFM statement added: "The First Minister and Deputy First Minister are attending the Ryder Cup today at Gleneagles at the request of the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond.

"(They) will meet First Minister Alex Salmond and other representatives from the Scottish Government.

"(They) will also engage with business representatives and have meetings with George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour and the Rory McIlroy Foundation, to discuss plans for the 2015 and 2017 Irish Open."

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