Budget 2015: NI parties split on traditional lines

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Budget statement to the House of Commons
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Budget statement to the House of Commons

The Chancellor’s Budget received a cautious welcome from the main unionist parties, but strident denouncements from nationalist parties – particularly the SDLP.

The UUP and DUP both reacted positively to the plan to lower corporation tax, but expressed misgivings about other aspects of the speech, such as the implementation of the living wage.

They both criticised Sinn Fein, with the DUP’s Sammy Wilson accusing the republican party of displaying “pseudo concern for the poor”.

However, it was the SDLP which appeared most eager to denounce the budget.

It was the first to react to the Chancellor’s announcement, sending in a statement to the News Letter at 1.30pm as George Osborne was drawing his roughly hour-long speech to a close.

It was the first of seven different statements from the party by early evening (compared with two from Sinn Fein and one each from the DUP and UUP).

SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly accused the chancellor of being “some modern-day Sheriff of Nottingham, robbing from the poorest to sustain hand outs to the rich”.

Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy said that ”Tory plans to cut tax credits are targeted against low-paid workers and will hit people in the North of Ireland particularly hard”.

Meanwhile, the UUP’s Danny Kinahan, its recently elected MP for South Antrim, said: “We agree with the desire to move from low wage, high tax, high welfare dependency to higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare dependency.”

He hailed the reduction in corporation tax, which would “make dropping the rate locally to 12.5 per cent much more affordable”.

He added: “However, there is also pain in this Budget, and for other aspects the devil will be in the detail.

“We need to see just how many families will be affected by the capping of household benefits at £20,000 outside of London...

“We also have concerns about the potential for the National Living Wage to pose an existential threat to micro and small and medium-sized enterprises, who are already struggling with the burden of rates.”

He added: “Whether you agree with what was outlined in the Budget today or not, at least this is a Government making decisions. Our DUP and Sinn Fein-led Executive is incapable.”

Meanwhile, Sammy Wilson, ex-finance minister and DUP MP for East Antrim, welcomed the increased defence payments, the unchanged fuel duty, extra spending on health, and more.

However, he also said that “none of the infrastructure proposals were specific to us [in Northern Ireland]”, and expressed worries over the reduction in working tax credits.

He said that since “the benefit changes will not go hand in hand with implementation of the living wage, many on low wages will find themselves worse off”.

Both parties noted that nationalists are still continuing to stall the implementation of the existing welfare deal, drawn up with the Stormont House Agreement.