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Martin McGuinness: Sinn Fein will give 'conditional support' to new budget bill

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said Sinn Fein will give 'conditional support' to the new budget bill 'to create space for a resolution'.

The Sinn Fein move does not bring a resolution to a huge political row over welfare reform implementation any closer but is designed to give local politicians more time to resolve their differences.

If Sinn Fein had voted against the Budget Bill at its consideration stage in the Assembly today it would have triggered a chain of events that would have forced a senior civil servant to take over spending powers from ministers in the five-party Executive next month.

Such an extraordinary measure would undoubtedly have put the very future of power-sharing at serious risk.

McGuinness said the decision to back the Budget Bill was made by his party's ruling body - the Ard Chomhairle - yesterday in Co Kildare.

"There is a very strong view on the Ard Chomhairle that the present situation we are dealing with is unsustainable," said the veteran Sinn Fein chief.

"That said, in the context of the present situation in relation to the Budget Bill we will be giving conditional support to this Budget Bill today.

"The purpose of that is to create a space which hopefully will see a resolution of the difficulties that we face in relation to putting in place a sustainable and workable budget, and also see the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

"This is about creating a space. It's about trying to resolve the difficulties and it is about recognising there are huge challenges ahead in that regard.

"That's the story today - hopefully people will recognise, particularly both governments and others, their responsibilities in terms of resolving these matters and will be prepared to work positively and constructively with us in the time ahead to crunch down on issues that have been creating all sorts of difficulties for this administration over the course of the recent while."

Finance Minister Arlene Foster's Budget Number 2 Bill has been described as a fantasy or phantom budget as it presupposes the parties will be able to resolve differences over welfare reform. It commits the Stormont Executive to a £600 million overspend for the rest of the financial year.

Democratic Unionist Finance Minister Arlene Foster is seeking approval for the second half of January's original budget, not factoring in the funding black holes, in the hope that a resolution to the welfare deadlock can be found later in the financial year.

The finance committee has already granted accelerated passage to the bill that would allow it to become law by the end of July.

Last week the Sinn Fein chief said he was committed to resolving outstanding difficulties and seeing the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

The cross-party deal hammered out last year sets a blueprint for the future of dealing of several contentious issues like parades, flags, emblems and the past.

However, subsequent disagreement from Sinn Fein and the SDLP over planned welfare reforms have threatened to unravel the entire agreement.

First Minister Peter Robinson has said the welfare issue must be resolved within "the next few months". Mr Robinson Peter Robinson: Honour welfare deal or Stormont is doomed that unless the Stormont House Agreement is honoured, there is no future for the Northern Executive.

He warned the impasse was already impacting on the economy of Northern Ireland.

The Government has said it is considering intervening to implement welfare changes over the head of the Assembly but has insisted that step remains a "last resort".

On Saturday Mr McGuinness addressed thousands of anti-austerity protesters in London. He told the rally: "Sinn Fein will not do Tory austerity. Unlike the Tory millionaires, I live in the heart of the proud working-class community of the Bogside in Derry," the Deputy First Minister said.

"The people the Tories are targeting are my friends, my neighbours, my family. They are fine, hard-working, proud and decent; just like our people in working-class unionist communities."

Further reading

London austerity protest: Martin McGuinness brands Tory government 'a cabinet of millionaire spongers'

Peter Robinson: Honour welfare deal or Stormont is doomed

McGuinness 'in resolution mode'

David Cameron and Enda Kenny urge an end to Northern Ireland political deadlock 

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