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What spending crisis? Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness snub emergency budget talks to watch Ryder Cup

Stormont's failure to agree budget cuts is costing Northern Ireland £1million a day

By Claire Cromie

Northern Ireland is facing its biggest spending crisis in living memory - but Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness would rather watch the golf than sort it out.

Calls to hold an emergency meeting today to resolve the budget crisis enveloping the Executive got no support at Stormont yesterday - and now we know why.

Our First and Deputy First Ministers had other plans - to watch the Ryder Cup together.

The pair were pictured smiling in the sunshine this morning at Gleneagles, chatting to Europe team captain Paul McGinley during the Morning Fourballs.

A Stormont spokesperson said they were guests of Scotland's first minister.

Meanwhile, the budget impasse at Stormont is costing Northern Ireland £1million every working day.

Ministers need to find £200m of cuts to stop the Treasury stepping in and taking control of spending.

Alliance leader David Ford said they were "more interested in 18 holes at Gleneagles than a budget black hole".

"In the face of the growing financial and political crisis, I am sure that I am not the only horrified person to hear that the first and deputy first ministers have decided that they are more interested in watching the Ryder Cup.

"Stephen Farry and I told the executive that we were prepared to clear our diaries on Thursday evening or all day Friday to discuss the budget. It seems that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have other priorities."

The issue failed to even make it onto the agenda for the 'Black Thursday' Executive meeting, after it was blocked by Sinn Fein.

It was instead discussed under 'Any Other Business' - and with no decision made, the cuts cannot now be discussed again until the next Executive meeting in a fortnight – costing the country another £10m.

Alliance leader David Ford and Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry had called for a special Friday session of the Executive to focus on the Budget.

But neither the DUP or Sinn Fein were interested.

The growing sense of crisis was underlined when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told a US audience that his party was prepared to let the institutions fall before they would agree to cuts caused by the welfare stalemate.

He said: “It isn’t that we want an election but if some of the parties in the North are going to follow this agenda, then let them bring it on to the floor of the Assembly and give the people their say.

“The party’s position is that we should unite as an Executive at telling the British Government that we are not going to impose these cuts,” he said.

Even the DUP's own Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has warned of the consequences of Westminster taking control.

He says Treasury officials could raise the issue of introducing water charges here or increased rates bills.

“Does anyone realistically believe that discussions with HM Treasury would be a one-way conversation? With us asking for what we want and getting it?" he said.

Mr Ford has dubbed the failure to reach agreement "a complete betrayal of the responsibilities" that our ministers were given.

"There is absolutely no doubt that civil servants with responsibilities as accounting officers across all departments will be starting to face a very difficult position as they look to what they know will be unsustainable budgets if action is not taken."

Further reading:

Action is needed at Stormont to stop slow slide to snap election

Stormont budget crisis: Opening hours of attractions cut ahead of next squeeze on spending

Stormont crisis: State obstinacy most to blame for deadlock on past 

Politicians refuse to see sense 

D-day for Stormont as Theresa Villiers plans crunch talks to end deadlock  

Stormont welfare cuts debate: Sinn Fein motion calling on Executive to oppose 'Tory cuts agenda' 

Rivals DUP and Sinn Fein join forces to spike UUP proposal on budget  

Welfare reform: A number of myths need to be buried once and for all before debate can continue 

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