Northern Ireland

Nick Clegg says Northern Ireland parties must accept financial reality

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Media captionNick Clegg warned parties not to ignore the financial realities facing them

Nick Clegg has warned Northern Ireland's parties they must accept financial realities and reach agreement over welfare reform and the budget.

He was speaking after it was revealed that the Treasury has been formally informed that the Northern Ireland Executive is set to go into the red.

Stormont faces a shortfall of more than £200m in its budget for the current financial year, which ends in April.

The deputy prime minister said tough decisions had to be made.

The shortfall consists of just under £90m in fines imposed by the Treasury due to the executive's failure to implement welfare reforms introduced elsewhere in the UK and more than £100m in other pressures.

The Liberal Democrat leader told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme "every part of the UK must pay its way, we can't just expect other parts to pick up the tab if we just don't want to live by our means".

'Pass the parcel'

He added: "You don't help people on benefits or the vulnerable in society by crashing the welfare budget."

Mr Clegg said some politicians in Belfast were ignoring tough decisions and said they could not play "pass the parcel" when it came to the budget.

"Money does not grow on trees and you have got to have the welfare state you can afford," he said.

Mr Clegg said the Northern Ireland Executive could not ignore the financial pressures they are facing.

"It is not going to help the vulnerable in society in Northern Ireland if people just somehow try and avert their gaze and pretend there is not a financial balance to be struck," he said.

Asked if London would intervene if the executive went into the red in the coming months, he said: "I very much hope we don't have to go into emergency mode on this and have the British government from Westminster interfering in something that should be resolved by the parties involved."

The deputy prime minister also discussed constitutional change and devolution across the United Kingdom.

He said: "Devolution is driven by what people want, not some blueprint imposed from above".

Image caption Stormont faces a shortfall of more than £200m in its budget for the current financial year

Mr Clegg said he was supportive of the executive having the power to vary corporation tax rates in Northern Ireland.

"I am personally sympathetic to that, if we can get it right, I would like us to get it right," he said.

A decision on whether corporation tax powers will be devolved is expected from the government by early December.

Mr Clegg's comments come as Liberal Democrats gather in Glasgow for their last annual conference before next year's general election.

The deputy prime minister's interview will be broadcast in full on Sunday Politics on BBC One Northern Ireland at 11.45 BST.

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