Stormont Executive approves budget cut plan
The Stormont Executive has approved a budget plan aimed at absorbing £4 billion of spending cuts in Northern Ireland.
The move came after marathon late-night talks at Stormont Castle between the parties in the region's mandatory power-sharing coalition.
The two main parties - the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein - and the Alliance Party voted for the plan, while the Ulster Unionists and SDLP abstained.
DUP First Minister Peter Robinson hailed the blueprint as a "first class budget".
"This is the Northern Ireland Executive doing what it was elected to do, taking decisions, no matter how hard, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland," he said.
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the administration had risen to the challenge.
"The Executive showed real leadership," he said. "The Executive has shown decisive leadership and has faced up to these very difficult challenges."
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the Executive had passed the budget test "with flying colours". "It will be a good Christmas present for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.
Details will be officially unveiled by Mr Wilson when he presents the four-year plan to the Assembly on Wednesday, but many of the main planks of the cost-saving and revenue raising programme have already emerged.
Whilst it is understood the much-debated health budget will not face significant cuts in the short term, potential NHS efficiencies are set to be explored by a team of experts.