The Ulster Unionists have said that the current furore over the Renewable Heating Incentives scheme has served as a “distraction” from the fact that the finance minister will not be presenting his budget to MLAs as hoped.
Sinn Fein minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said he had been “minded” to present the plans for future spending to the Assembly this coming Monday, December 19.
However, he added he had been waiting to see the UK Government’s Autumn Statement on November 23 first.
He went on to say that December 19 had been a provisional date for him and was “always going to prove a challenge”.
UUP finance spokesman Philip Smith (MLA for Strangford) said that both the DUP and Sinn Fein were “conveniently using the current Executive crisis over the botched RHI scheme as a cover to reveal that the budget will no longer be presented to the Assembly next week”.
“Initially a draft 2017-2020 Budget was meant to be presented to the Assembly in the first week of October,” he said.
“Then the anticipated multi-year budget was pathetically downscaled to a single-year budget and was due to be presented in ‘early December’.
“This was then again pushed back to December 19 – next Monday.”
A statement from the finance minister said: “The failure of the British Government to reveal its spending plans until November 23 meant budget processes couldn’t start until then.
“However, the Budget process is on schedule and much progress has been made with meetings continuing with other ministers throughout this week.”
Asked when the budget will now be presented, the department provided no date.
Mr Smith said that the date of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement had been known well in advance, and so dismissed the minister’s explanation as “nonsense”.