The DUP has revealed that the Chief Medical Officer had a private meeting with Martin McGuinness, as Stormont wrangling over a “crisis” in the health budget intensifies.
Yesterday Mr McGuinness sought to exacerbate internal DUP strains about the issue by claiming that the party’s ministers were split down the middle on whether to give health minister Edwin Poots some of the extra money which he says that he needs.
The deputy first minister highlighted that it was a DUP finance minister, Simon Hamilton, who had decided on the budget re-allocations and that “the issue of poor management of the health budget was identified by the finance minister Simon Hamilton”.
On Thursday, Mr Poots spoke out bluntly on the Stephen Nolan Show, warning of a “crisis” for the health service if the proposed cuts proceed.
He also revealed that the Chief Medical Officer, Michael McBride, had expressed serious concerns about the implications of what has been proposed.
Yesterday the former finance minister Sammy Wilson accused Sinn Fein of “ostrich economics” over its refusal to implement welfare reforms passed by Westminster, which is the reason for the cuts to Stormont budgets.
When asked yesterday by Mr Nolan whether the health minister was bluffing about the scale of the problem, Mr Wilson said: “I would hope that he’s not bluffing in this because the issues concerned are far, far too important.”
Yesterday afternoon a statement from the DUP MLA Gordon Dunne, which was issued via the party’s press office, revealed details of the briefing which Mr McGuinness received from the chief medical officer.
He said: “Following the question being posed on a radio show this morning, the deputy first minister rushed out a request for a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer. This follows details emerging of the impact that Sinn Fein cuts will have on the Department of Health as a result of their intransigence on welfare reform.
“Did Martin McGuinness just not listen to the Chief Medical Officer at his last briefing in April or did he choose to ignore what he was told by Michael McBride some months ago?
“That meeting was held at Edwin Poots’ request, because the shadow of welfare reform was already looming over the Department of Health and the potential impact was starting to emerge.”
Yesterday the TUV leader, Jim Allister, said that the level of disagreement over the current modest cuts showed how unworkable the devolution of corporation tax would be.
He said: “The June monitoring cuts have put the Executive in a spin, with the health minister declaring a form of departmental [independence].
“Yet, the inescapable consequence of devolving corporation tax is even more massive cuts in public expenditure, not just for one year, but in perpetuity and of the order of £250m-£500m.
“How could this Stormont cope with that? It couldn’t, making all the talk about getting tax raising powers dangerous nonsense.”
The Northern Ireland Conservatives’ Mark Brotherston accused Stormont ministers of “presiding over chaos in the Executive” and “failing to carry out the most basic tasks of government”.