A former finance minister has angrily denounced Mairtin O Muilleoir, accusing the Sinn Fein MLA of putting on a display of “faux outrage” over a proposed budget for the Province.
Sammy Wilson MP said despite the “fury” shown by the Sinn Fein MLA in reaction to a new public spending plan unveiled Secretary of State James Brokenshire, his party are “frauds” who do not actually want devolved government to work.
Mr Brokenshire unveiled an “indicative budget” for Northern Ireland on Monday, which was drawn up in the absence of a government in Stormont.
It is understood the budget covers this April until next one, and would be used to manage spending in the absence of an Executive.
Though this “indicative budget” shows a slight overall increase in general spending, some areas like the Department for Education would see a drop in funds.
Mr O Muilleoir (who became finance minister last March) told Radio Ulster the budget represents a policy of “austerity” and “Tory cuts”, and “we should oppose them vociferously” – something echoed by the SDLP.
Mr Wilson, finance minister from 2009 to 2013, said the only reason that it was brought forward at all is because Mr O Muilleoir “failed to do his job” and that “his party brought down the Assembly” using the RHI scandal as an excuse.
In a statement, the DUP man said Mr O Muilleoir “thinks the public are so gullible that they will be taken in by his faux outrage and promises that not only will Sinn Fein resist these cuts, but will add hundreds of millions of pounds of additional expenditure to the budget”.
He added: “RHI was a convenient escape hole for Sinn Fein who are not fit to be in government because they’re incapable of responsible decision making ... As with welfare reform they’ll let the hated Brits make the important decisions, and sit and carp and whinge from the side lines moaning about their victimhood.”
Whilst most of the nine government departments would see a cut in funding under the budget plan, overall their combined budgets would grow.
According to a straightforward comparison of last year’s budget with Mr Brokenshire’s figures, his plan means the three biggest departments’ budgets would change accordingly: health +3.2%, education –2.5%, justice +2.2%.
The overall budget would grow by roughly 1.3%.
However, the Department of Finance said none of these figures take account of payments being made under the Civil Service’s voluntary redundancy scheme.
Once these are stripped out of departments’ everyday spending figures (something the finance department said gives a better picture of true spending), the three biggest departments’ budgets would change like this: health +3.4%, education –0.9%, justice +1.1%.
Using this same type of calculation, the overall budget of the nine departments combined would grow by about 0.8%.
Steve Aiken, UUP economy spokesman, said Sinn Fein’s reaction to the budget was “sheer duplicity”, because Mr O Muilleoir himself would have introduced something similar had his party not collapsed the government.
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said: “With a Westminster election looming it is clear Sammy Wilson and the DUP are trying to dupe the public about why we have no political institutions at present.”
He added that “the DUP are lining up alongside their fellow travellers in the Tories, defending their cuts and the Brexit agenda which their support was bought and paid for”.
WHAT ARE THE ACTUAL NUMBERS INVOLVED?
There are two ways of looking at the figures.
The first is simply to compare the 2016/17 budget with the Secretary of State’s new proposed 2017/18 budget.
The News Letter has done this, and come out with the following rough calculations for how each department’s budgets would change under his plan:
Agriculture and Environment: -3.6%
Executive Office: -1.2%
However, the Department of Finance said that a more accurate way of calculating the figures would be to strip out monies being used for redundancy payments to civil service staff.
It provided figures which removed such redundancy costs from both years, and also stripped out any research-and-development costs from the 2016/17 figures (but not the 2017/18 figures).
According to its account, this gives a more accurate reflection of how true day-to-day spending power would change under Mr Brokenshire’s budget:
Agriculture and Environment: -3.2%
Executive Office: -0.4%