Decisions on Northern Ireland budget cuts may be put off until autumn
Stormont ministers seem set to put off crunch decisions over cuts to the funding Northern Ireland receives from Westminster until the autumn.
The Executive appears poised to shelve tackling Treasury penalties for its failure to agree on implementing welfare reforms – which has cost Stormont coffers £34m so far – until spending discussions scheduled for October.
Meanwhile, wrangling over the spending stalemate sparked a spat between Justice Minister David Ford and former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, who said the penalties would result in £87m less to spend this year.
Their clash came after the Alliance leader warned he could not protect some front line services in his department if the Executive – due to meet next week – did actually agree budget cuts.
He also accused the two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, of attempting to delay the welfare reform issue while protecting their own biggest departments, health (DUP) and education (Sinn Fein) from cuts.
Mr Wilson, who was replaced as minister by Simon Hamilton almost a year ago, hit out: "Surely David Ford accepts that if Sinn Fein took a responsible approach to welfare reform, then our budget would have £87m more to spend across the departments."
Mr Ford conceded: "Sammy Wilson is right that SF's refusal to face reality of welfare reform is a major issue, but that doesn't excuse the DUP's apparent rollover on that issue, nor their agreement to choose which departments to protect on a 'one for me, one for you' basis."
Sinn Fein has insisted there is no link between the welfare reform issue and the June monitoring round, the quarterly exercise under which money departments have failed to spend is redirected towards other priorities.