Northern Ireland

McGuinness accuses SDLP and UUP of electioneering

Martin McGuinness
Image caption Martin McGuinness accused the UUP and SDLP of 'fighting their own corners'

The deputy first minister has accused the Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP of electioneering over the draft budget.

It comes amid deepening divisions within the Executive over the budget.

Martin McGuinness said UUP Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, and SDLP Social Development Minister, Alex Attwood, had criticised the proposals "at every opportunity".

But Mr Attwood said the attack was an attempt to distract attention from a budget that "wasn't good enough".

Political correspondent Martina Purdy said that while Executive ministers were not supposed to publicly attack each other, tensions were mounting in the countdown to the final vote on the budget in March.

She added that an Ulster Unionist source had indicated that the party's assembly team is meeting at Stormont to examine defining decisions - including whether their ministers should reject the final budget.

At a news conference, the deputy first minister attacked Michael McGimpsey after the health minister publicly condemned cuts to his budget.

Mr McGuinness described him as a semi-detached minister and claimed the SDLP and Ulster Unionists were a minority in the Executive refusing to back the budget for electoral advantage.

Populist positions

"Some of these ministers are fighting their own corner and what is it all about?

"Well it is about the elections," he added.

"It is about what is good for the Ulster Unionist Party in the election and the SDLP. It is about trying to take populist positions."

So far Sinn Fein, the DUP and Alliance Party are the only parties to have agreed to the draft budget proposals, which implement £4bn in cuts from Westminster.

Mr McGuinness criticised the UUP leader Tom Elliott for not appealing to the Conservative Party over the cuts.

He added: "I have yet to hear one word of criticism for Michael McGimpsey about the Tory administration, which has taken this money from us.

"Tom Elliott has not sought any meetings with David Cameron, his buddy, to protest at the level of cuts that are imposed upon us."

Alex Attwood said the deputy first minister's comments were an attempt to "distract people from the big arguments about their failure to get a budget fit for purpose".

The final vote on the budget is due to take place on 14 March.