Major cuts to Northern Ireland's public purse could undermine its vitally important construction industry, First Minister Peter Robinson has signalled.
Addressing the Institute of Bankers at Belfast's Europa Hotel, Mr Robinson repeated his call for the Westminster Government to uphold its St Andrews Agreement commitments to support the Northern Ireland economy.
He also confirmed that party colleague Sammy Wilson will remain as Stormont finance minister to help handle the impending cuts, despite the decision of most other party MPs to leave the Assembly.
Mr Robinson used the opportunity to press the banks to increase lending to small and medium-sized companies seeking support for viable business ventures.
But he focused on the feared £2 billion cuts expected to be imposed on Northern Ireland by Chancellor George Osborne when he unveils his spending review plans on October 20.
"I do not for one moment argue that Northern Ireland should be immune from making a contribution to the effort to reduce the deficit or that we do not require to rebalance our economy," he said.
"However, it is not at all clear to me how we seek to rebalance the economy by taking billions of pounds out of the economy in the next four years, particularly in those areas which stimulate the private sector."
He added: "The Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, stated that he believed that it would take 25 years to complete the transition to a more private sector-driven economy. This would seem to be a fair assessment, but it will not be assisted by a large reduction to our capital budget which is the engine of the private sector here. In fact, with the economic downturn, the public sector is already responsible for well over 50% of construction work in Northern Ireland."
The First Minister said: "The latest indications are that by 2014/15, our capital budget could decrease by between 40 and 50% in real terms from where it is today and almost 60% less than what our Investment Strategy had envisaged.
"That is not just economically unwise, it is also contrary to the guarantee given by the last Government arising out of the International Agreement signed by the government at St Andrews which led to the restoration of devolution."