Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland ministers discuss budget pressures

Stormont Castle
Image caption The Northern Ireland Executive meetings are usually held in Stormont Castle

Northern Ireland Executive ministers have discussed the serious financial pressures on their budgets.

They face having to make £200m of cuts between October and April, equivalent to 4% of all departmental budgets.

While a paper by Finance Minster Simon Hamilton was circulated, it was not formally tabled for discussion and no decisions were taken.

Justice Minister David Ford said there had been "an unwillingness to have a serious, meaningful discussion".

'General discussion'

"In the face of difficult spending issues, intransigence on the streets that is causing difficulties for the community, and intransigence around economics at the executive table, we have simply failed to live up to the responsibilities that the people of Northern Ireland gave the executive parties as a whole," the Alliance Party leader said.

"Unless the executive gets agreement, then we have difficult problems and there seems to be no sense of understanding as to where we are."

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said there was a "general discussion but not a formal one".

"It's now clear that irrespective of what is happening to other parties internally, that shouldn't impact on the good government of Northern Ireland and we need to deal with these financial issues as quickly as possible," the Ulster Unionist assembly member said.

Financial pressures

Mr Hamilton has been stressing the need to find £200m in savings during this financial year.

That includes nearly £90m in fines imposed by the Treasury because of Stormont's delay in implementing welfare reforms.

The Northern Ireland Executive's financial pressures are estimated to be increasing at a rate of £5m per week.

While DUP ministers said they believe the budget shortfall must be addressed urgently in order to avoid breaching Treasury spending limits, Sinn Féin ministers have continued to resist paying any Treasury fines.

Their party has argued that the welfare changes should be subject to further negotiation with Westminster.