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Sinn Fein backs 'fantasy' budget to ease Stormont welfare reform crisis

By Liam Clarke

Published 23/06/2015

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein has backed Stormont's 'fantasy' budget in order to buy time to thrash out a deal on welfare reform.

The party's "conditional support" gives the Executive a reprieve, allowing the parties to put off the crisis until autumn - though it will cost Stormont £2m a week in the meantime.

Because there is no deal on welfare reform, the budget put forward by DUP Finance Minister Arlene Foster contains a £604m black hole. However passing it - and this is likely to happen at an extra sitting of the Assembly tomorrow after no vote was taken last night - will release loans and grants from Westminster for a while longer.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made it clear he would withdraw his own support and that of his party if more spending cuts were introduced. But this is still set to happen, after the Tories confirmed they plan to save another £12.5bn on welfare across the UK. There are also plans to slash Northern Ireland's block grant again.

Sinn Fein's could have effectively blocked the Bill, but Mr McGuinness said ongoing support could not be guaranteed without more money from London. "There is a very strong view on the Ard Comhairle (Sinn Fein's national executive) that the present situation we are dealing with is unsustainable," he said.

He said the purpose of the party's "conditional support... is to create a space which hopefully will see a resolution of the difficulties that we face in relation to putting in place a sustainable and workable budget, and also see the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement."

There was an air of gloom during yesterday's debate on the Budget Bill. Most speakers agreed that the situation could not continue. Ms Foster confirmed that a planned reduction in corporation tax to 12.5% or even 10% in 2017 might now be unaffordable.

Devolving this tax on business profits to Stormont is a policy which all five Executive parties have supported. They argue that if they cut it then it will lead to an influx of well-paid jobs as happened when US electronics and pharmaceutical companies set up European headquarters in the Republic.

However, now the £300m-a-year cost of the cutting the tax is making some parties nervous, although Ms Foster still supports it.

Belfast Telegraph

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