DUP, SF and Alliance vote to pass unfunded ‘fantasy budget’


Stormont has passed an unfunded budget for Northern Ireland without reaching agreement on welfare changes.

Money for public spending is due to run out in months due to a £600 million shortfall largely down to a split between nationalists and unionists over benefits which is threatening the future of power-sharing.

But MLAs passed the so-called fantasy budget by 60 votes to 19, with the DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance voting through the budget against opposition from Executive colleagues.

DUP Finance Minister Arlene Foster warned ministers against taking rash spending decisions without a deal.

But senior Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy said there should be a united approach to combating austerity he blamed on the British Government.

Ms Foster said: “It would be very foolish for any minister to continue to spend without any regard to the situation that we find ourselves in.

“If welfare reform was implemented we could continue with our discretionary spending.

“Without welfare reform there is no Stormont House Agreement and therefore there is not the flexibility available to us which we require to move forward.”

Most of the spending shortfall is due to a dispute between unionists and nationalists over December’s Stormont House Agreement.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP opposed welfare changes which they claim will hurt the most vulnerable.

The DUP argued they were being irresponsible with public finances and said it had negotiated the best deal possible on benefits with Whitehall.

Some of the hole in the spending plans involves other departmental budgetary pressures that have emerged since the budget was first struck at the start of the year.

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said: “The approach the British Government have taken has damaged the vulnerable – they are damaging the working poor, restricting our ability to provide frontline services and it will undermine any prospect of economic recovery for the people in this part of Ireland.”

But independent MLA John McCallister said that Stormont could argue against welfare reform – as has happened in Edinburgh and Cardiff – but said: “Nicola Sturgeon is not collapsing the Scottish government; Carwyn Jones is not collapsing the Welsh government”.

Alliance’s Stewart Dickson argued passionately for Sinn Fein to “accept the outcome of a democratic election” in which the Conservatives won a majority.

He pointed out that – even if Sinn Fein doesn’t like it – Northern Ireland is part of the UK and must respect the democratic result of the General Election.