Northern Ireland

Finance minister in cuts warning over NI welfare changes

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Media captionThe Northern Ireland Executive will have to agree a new budget in June

The Northern Ireland Executive will have to agree a new budget next month that involves widespread cutbacks if funds are to be available in August, Stormont's finance minister has said.

Westminster is reducing the amount of money it sends to Stormont because the executive will not sign off on welfare changes.

Simon Hamilton said that because no agreement had been reached, he was proposing a 1.5% cut across all departments.

"It's a matter for the executive ultimately to agree what it wants to do to deal with £100m of reductions because of a failure to move forward with welfare reform," said the DUP assembly member.

"If you were to do that on a pro rata basis and take it off all departments, you'd have health suffering to the tune of between £40m and £50m, you'd have education suffering around £20m in cuts and you'd have Deti which deals with jobs and the economy suffering £2m to £3m."

'United front'

Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd of Sinn Féin said the DUP was taking the wrong approach.

"The discussion we should be having, as an executive, is how to present a united front to the British government and stand up to them over these cuts," he said.

"Instead of the DUP having hot dogs and champers with the British government at Downing Street last week, what they should be doing is working with their executive colleagues to ensure the worst aspects of welfare reform are not imposed upon this society."

SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the DUP was scaremongering.

"We have been hearing these warnings for a couple of years now - we were warned that if welfare reform wasn't implemented maybe 14 months ago, the sky was going to fall on our heads," he said.

"Where welfare reform is being implemented, it is a complete and absolute disaster."

'Make decisions'

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said it demonstrated that the DUP and Sinn Féin cannot work together.

"Like everything else that comes through OFMDFM and this DUP/Sinn Féin carve-up, they just can't make a decision," he said.

"What people want is for them to make decisions - even if they don't like the decisions, they should start making them."

Alliance Party leader David Ford said delays in implementing the changes would be costly.

"I think it's absolutely inevitable that if we do not resolve welfare reform, there will be cuts," said the Stormont justice minister.

"The reality is we know what the Westminster parliament has decided - we have no realistic option to make anything other than the minor changes that were agreed months ago, and it's time that was accepted."

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