Sinn Féin says DUP budget money will only 'plug gaps'

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has set a budget for the north. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

SINN Féin has claimed the additional money secured by the DUP for public services will merely "plug gaps", while the SDLP said Karen Bradley's budget presented "more questions than answers".

For the second year running, the secretary of state yesterday stepped in to allocate spending for Stormont departments, due to the continued absence of an executive.

Included in around £12 billion earmarked by Mrs Bradley is £410m of the £1 billion secured by the DUP as part of last June's confidence and supply deal with the Tories. The arrangement sees the party's ten MPs support Theresa May's minority government in Westminster.

But the relationship between the Arlene Foster's party and the Conservatives continues to be a source of rancor for the north's nationalists parties.

Former Sinn Féin finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said yesterday's budget was part of the British government's "austerity agenda".

He noted how there was no money for legacy inquests, despite claims last month of a side deal on the issue between Sinn Féin and the British government.

"This budget is not good for our economy, for our universities or for the homeless," he said.

"Just two departments get increases but these are not enough to meet the demand – the health department alone needs a six per cent increase just to stand still."

SDLP finance spokeswoman Claire Hanna described Mrs Bradley's spending plan as a "direct rule budget from London directed by the DUP".

"This budget presents more questions than answers – primarily, how can it be acceptable that the DUP confidence and supply is allocated to departments without any political accountability?" she said.

The South Belfast MLA said the relationship between the Conservatives and the DUP was not a solution.

"It undermines the very fabric of our politics and the spirit of power sharing that underpins it," she said.


But DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA rounded on the "cynics" who doubted the money secured through the confidence and supply deal would materialise.

She said the additional £410m had helped "achieve an improved budget compared to the one that many feared".

"Our efforts will help alleviate pressures in health and education, tackle issues with mental health and deprivation, transform our NHS and build new infrastructure," Mrs Foster said.

Her colleague Sammy Wilson claimed his party had prevented a ten per cent hike in the regional rate – which accounts for half of household and business rates bills.

"The fact that increases have been held to 4.5 per cent, on average an additional £1 per week for households, will be of considerable relief to hard-pressed families," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the 2018/19 budget was meant to herald a cut in the regional corporation tax rate but it would instead be remembered for its "inflation-busting rates hike".

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said that while additional funding had been found to help reduce the impact of cuts, the figures were "heavily skewed through the constant short-termist need to prop up health and education".

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