“We had no idea this was coming..”

The Irish Times’ Dan Keenan, naturally enough, was at the Belfast launch of Deaglan de Bréadún’s book ‘The Far Side of Revenge’ and he managed to get NI Executive Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson’s response to the Prime Minister’s ‘pressie’. I’ve put that quote below the fold because, more importantly, the NI Department of Finance also issued a statement to the Irish Times. [subs req]

A statement issued by Peter Robinson’s finance department said: “The executive has already set an extremely ambitious target to generate and retain £1.1 billion of asset disposals. Delivering this £1.1 billion figure is going to be a considerable challenge for the executive – more so in today’s environment of depreciating land and property values.

“Moving the limit from £1.1 billion to £2.2 billion is a quantum increase that challenges the boundaries of reasonable expectations. Thus this should not be perceived as a £1 billion cash injection into Northern Ireland.”

More from the Irish Times report

The British prime minister’s announcement, made at the US-Northern Ireland invest conference in Belfast on Thursday, took Executive Ministers by surprise, reliable Stormont sources said yesterday. “We had no idea this was coming,” said one.

Asked about the feasibility of selling off £2.2 billion in assets at a time of market uncertainty and using the proceeds for infrastructure projects, another said Mr Brown’s offer was not realistic.

Mr Donaldson said the DUP would take the prime minister’s offer at face value and seek an extension if needed.

“In the current climate we have to be realistic in our expectations” he said.

“It may well be difficult to dispose of so many assets in a depressed market. We will do our best with this but if there is a question of not meeting the three-year timeframe because it’s not prudent to dispose of some of the assets in a depressed market, then we will look to the [British] government to extend the period.”