NI Budget Bill passes final stage at Stormont
The Budget Bill has passed its final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The final debate on Stormont's annual public spending programme began on Tuesday night and continued into the early hours of the morning.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton referred to the difficult choices MLAs have faced over the past few months.
He said the bill passed in "perhaps the most challenging financial environment facing the executive and this assembly since devolution was restored in 2007".
At one point last year, following an impasse over welfare reform, First Minister Peter Robinson warned that Northern Ireland's political structures were "no longer fit for purpose".
However, as a result of December's Stormont House Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive was given extra borrowing power and more flexibility on spending in a package worth almost £2bn.
The success of the deal depended on MLAs passing a budget, that means many departments face cuts to balance their books.
Mr Hamilton told the assembly there had been a requirement for departmental reductions "largely due to the delay in agreeing a way forward on welfare reform".
The chairman of Stormont's finance committee, Daithi McKay, said debate in earlier stages of the bill had recognised that "the legislative stages of the existing budget and financial processes are cumbersome and are in need of reform".
"There is broad acceptance across all parties that an overhaul of existing processes is undertaken," he said.
The UKIP Strangford MLA David McNarry was critical of the budget.
"It isn't a budget for the in-work, the out-of-work, the better-off or the not so well-off - it's a budget for the hangers-on and you will find them in the executive," he said.
During the debate, First Minister Peter Robinson said he wanted to speak as a constituency representative and was critical of comments made by the SDLP's Alex Attwood in an earlier debate.
Mr Attwood, who represents West Belfast, said his constituency had the highest number of children living in low income families and that investment was needed in order to deal with that disadvantage.
He had said: "That means that you don't invest FDI (foreign direct investment) in South and East Belfast, you protect industrial sites in West Belfast."
Mr Robinson responded saying, that as a representative of East Belfast, he found the comments "outrageous" and sought assurances from the finance minister and his party colleague that there would "be no cut in the investment into South and East Belfast".
Later Mr Attwood said he wanted to urge people to check the written Hansard record of what he had said "as opposed to what other people claim was said".
The Budget Bill was passed with cross-community consent.