Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland budget must not be set by one party, says SDLP leader

By Suzanne Breen

The Secretary of State is expected to bring a budget for Northern Ireland before the House of Commons on Thursday.

Karen Bradley is also likely to announce whether the government will move to cut MLAs' pay.

Reducing the salaries of Stormont representatives by up to a third is under consideration.

As Mrs Bradley prepared her budget, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood last night warned that the DUP must not be allowed to dictate all financial decisions here.

He said the party's political needs would not serve the priorities of everyone in Northern Ireland.

After being denied a government for over a year, the crises in health and education meant that investment and decisions were urgently needed, the SDLP leader maintained.

"Now that the negotiations have failed at Stormont, there is a deep and real concern that the DUP will now be dictating all decisions in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Obviously, the most fundamental act of political decision-making comes in the setting of a budget.

"A budget has to be set but it must not be set by one political party in the North. There remains the strong and natural suspicion that the fingerprints of the private DUP/Tory committee at Westminster will be all over this forthcoming budget."

Mr Eastwood said that the majority of people in Northern Ireland who didn't vote for the DUP should make it clear that "all financial and political decisions must not and cannot be made in a secret room in the corridors of Westminster".

He said: "This is not the DUP's money.

"The political needs of the DUP will not serve the needs of everyone in Northern Ireland. 

"Their record in government is evidence enough of that fact.

"The DUP's priorities will not serve the priority of expansion at Magee, the priority of improved road and rail links west of the Bann or the priority of spreading jobs beyond specific corners of Belfast.

"These areas weren't a priority for the DUP-Sinn Fein executives over the course of 10 years so people are naturally fearful that it won't be any different now."

Mr Eastwood said the forthcoming Westminster budget was "yet another reminder as to why our political fate simply can't be left to a Tory/DUP government".

He added: "That is why I continue to push the solution that both the Irish and British governments must act jointly to take decisions and give political directions in the weeks ahead."

Ms Bradley told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs at Westminster recently she was preparing a budget for under-pressure public services.

On the deal agreed between the DUP and Tories to support a minority government at Westminster, she said: "All commitments made by the British Government will be fulfilled."

Former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney reviewed MLAs' pay issue for former Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire in December.

His report recommended that MLAs' annual salaries be reduced in two stages - an immediate £7,425 (15%) cut from £49,500 to £42,075.

He recommended that this should be followed by a further 12.5% reduction three months later - an additional decrease of £6,187. In total, it would see MLAs' pay slashed by £13,612 - from £49,500 to £35,888.

Future annual pay increases for MLAs would also be deferred until Stormont is back in operation.

However, the then Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said shortly afterwards that there would be no reduction in pay, as a new round of talks was looming.

But the recent breakdown in the negotiations may prompt his successor to take action.

Belfast Telegraph

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