David Ford accused of ‘cowardice’ over budget cuts

Justice Minister David Ford warned that Stormont losing its control over spending would be akin to a return of Direct Rule
Justice Minister David Ford warned that Stormont losing its control over spending would be akin to a return of Direct Rule

The Justice Minister’s failure to identify those responsible for budget cuts affecting his department is political “cowardice”, Sammy Wilson has said.

The East Antrim MP said David Ford should put the spotlight on the refusal of the SDLP and Sinn Fein to implement welfare reform rather than blaming the DUP.

A lack of agreement in implementing how benefits are administered has led to heavy fines from the UK Treasury – claimed to be £100m over 2014 – being imposed on the Stormont Executive.

Mr Wilson said: “It is time for David Ford to tell the public exactly why he is so frightened of standing up to either the SDLP or Sinn Fein. People will understand the frustration of any minister who sees their budget reduced.

“Having faced the pressures of austerity in recent years the last thing any government department needs is to see money removed in unnecessary penalties due to the non-implementation of welfare reform.

“The blame for these fines lies squarely at the feet of Sinn Fein and the SDLP yet David Ford cannot bring himself to identify those responsible.

“Once again we see the Alliance Party shying away from any direct criticism of nationalist parties and choosing instead to include the DUP.

“This is not the first time we have seen such cowardice from David Ford of course.”

The former finance minister said the current Alliance position “mirrored their refusal to accept the National Crime Agency which is also impacting upon the work of the Department of Justice”.

Responding to the criticism, an Alliance spokesman said: “David Ford has made it very clear that the refusal of Sinn Fein and the SDLP to implement welfare reform is the cause of the budget difficulties, but the DUP has been complicit in this utterly unrealistic presentation of the budget position.”

Meanwhile, Terry Spence of the NI Police Federation has called on all Executive ministers to rethink a multi-million pound cut in the PSNI budget.

“Policing cannot shoulder a cutback of this magnitude. We’re already understaffed with a shortfall of some 1,000 officers. That situation can only deteriorate further if the PSNI is told to implement these draconian cutbacks.

“Officers are already badly stretched in the performance of their duties.”

The federation chairman added: “With staff numbers falling and recruitment not keeping pace with the numbers who are leaving, it’s inevitable that an unfair burden will fall on our rank-and-file.

“That situation would be intolerable.”