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Still no consensus on detail of budget

By David Gordon

Stormont Ministers are sending out mixed signals on the chances of the Executive agreeing a new budget for Northern Ireland.

DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson yesterday warned of an emergency budget option for his department.

But Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness predicted agreement — while also saying his party would not back a “cuts budget”.

The Executive is tasked with setting a spending budget for a four-year period that starts next April. Funding is tight due to cuts imposed in the spending review announced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

Mr Wilson had hoped to have a draft budget agreed by the Executive by this week, leading to Assembly approval and a period of public consultation on the plans.

But that timetable has not been met, and he is voicing increasing impatience.

An emergency budget procedure would be needed in the event of an Executive stalemate and Mr Wilson is claiming the prospects of that outcome are increasing.

Pointing the finger at Sinn Fein over the hold-up, he said: “I'm hoping that common sense will prevail and people will see the consequences of not having a budget.”

Mr McGuinness yesterday said a lot of people are “pontificating” in the media over the possibility of a budget not being agreed.

“Some of those same people were pontificating about whether or not the DUP and Sinn Fein would go into government together, but we did,” he told the Assembly.

“When we went into government together, they said that it would last only a couple of weeks; three and a half years later, we are still together. Therefore, the prospects of agreeing a budget are good.”

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