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Stormont facing 'nuclear' option if budget not agreed: Arlene Foster

By Noel McAdam

Published 13/05/2015

There is only a fortnight to deal with a £500m hole in Stormont's budget, new Finance Minister Arlene Foster has warned
There is only a fortnight to deal with a £500m hole in Stormont's budget, new Finance Minister Arlene Foster has warned

There is only a fortnight to deal with a £500m hole in Stormont's budget, new Finance Minister Arlene Foster has warned.

On her first day in office the former Enterprise Minister said the next two weeks were "crucial" in attempting to resolve the on-going impasse over welfare reform.

Speaking at Assembly question time, she bluntly told MLAs: "We have around two weeks to deal with this matter."

The TUV's Jim Allister asked what happened if the minister was unable to bring a viable budget before the Assembly next month as a result of Sinn Fein's "punitive intransigence" in withdrawing support for the legislation underpinning the massive benefits changes.

Mrs Foster said there were a number of contingencies in place but described them as "pretty dogmatic and nuclear".

Her remark was taken as referring to the potential collapse of the Assembly and Stormont Executive because it cannot sustain its budget. The contingency plans would also involve the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance stepping in.

"I very much hope that the House recognises that that is not a place where we want to be come the end of June," she added.

Less than 24 hours after leaving her Enterprise and Industry portfolio, Mrs Foster told MLAs: "The Executive's 2015-16 budget is predicated on the implementation of welfare reform halfway through this year and the subsequent return of 50% of the £114m reduction applied by Her Majesty's Treasury. Delays in implementation will reduce the funding returned to the Executive, while failure to progress the Bill at all will mean that the £114m reduction will apply in full."

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