Leading article

Financial shortfall will mean tough decisions

News that nurses have suspended their strike action will be greeted with relief by patients and also the new health minister, who had made this issue his first priority on taking office.

Robin Swann and his executive colleagues had come up with the money needed to address the disparity in pay between staff in Northern Ireland and their counterparts in England.

This was a decision that had to be taken and quickly, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that finding the funds to tackle a range of other major problems is likely to prove much more difficult.

Ahead of the restoration of the devolved structures, there appeared to be an assumption that a massive cash injection would be provided to the new executive.

Ominous signs that the British government was not about to lavish vast amounts of money on Stormont came on Monday when Boris Johnson flew in but said little of note.

Later, after speaking to the secretary of state, finance minister Conor Murphy declared that the amount on offer 'falls well short' of what was expected.

The executive stepped up its case for more money, with the first minister and deputy first minister writing to Mr Johnson, but then on Wednesday evening the government revealed the figure on offer was £2 billion, including £1 billion which would be coming to the north anyway under the Barnett formula.

Mr Murphy said the proposed package was 'woefully inadequate', adding he would not accept it.

Mr Smith hit back on Twitter, pointing out that the MLAs have been off work for three years at a cost of £15 million in salaries. ''Let's get on with it'', he wrote.

What is not clear is what specific commitments were made by the British government ahead of the parties returning to Stormont, or why the financial arrangements were not agreed in writing.

There is no doubt the funding as it stands will make it difficult for ministers to make significant progress on a range of key issues.

Mr Murphy said public services face a shortfall of £1 billion next year alone.

The secretary of state seems unmoved, suggesting the executive should 'focus on its priorities.'

This will certainly be a challenging period for the new administration and with funds in shorter supply than hoped, tough decisions lie ahead.

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Leading article