First Minister goes into oppositional mode over SPED case…

With that three year long budget now stretching to breaking point, there’s a full scale row going on between the First Minister and his one SDLP minister, Margaret Ritchie over the latter’s refusal to fund the rehousing of a police officer and his family. Noel McAdam has the latest:

“I am outraged that this matter has not been dealt with expeditiously. Margaret knows very well that colleagues have never failed to deal with emergency situations. The people faced with these emergency circumstances should not be used a pawns in a political push for wider Departmental funds.”

Ms Ritchie said she totally agreed. but her bid for an additional £5m for SPED in the June monitoring round was refused. “I have not sought publicity regarding this. However, I find myself having to respond to media statements made by Ian Paisley jnr, Simon Hamilton, Sammy Wilson and now Peter Robinson who have all raised the matter in the media,” she said.

“If the Finance Minister or the First Minister are prepared to guarantee that they will find the funds later, I will borrow these funds from the maintenance budget in the short term to help those people affected. Yesterday the First Minister said some positive things about an inclusive approach to government. It is disappointing that government ministers are pursuing the SPED issue across the airwaves.”

It perfectly exposes the problem with a mandatory coalition. On Tuesday at Evolve, the First Minister noted:

Some have argued that the SDLP and UUP’s present “opposition mode” in the Executive is tactical and cynical. However, both parties say they want to make a full contribution to the Executive’s work.

It’s not difficult to see why the First Minister would go on a full blown attack over such an emotive issue. But it is also putting himself into that same ‘oppositional mode’ he’s accused his junior executive members of adopting themselves…

The same economic pressures which are straining the overall budget are playing merry hell with DSD’s SPED’s capacity to fulfil increased demand of the last few months:

The police were unable to provide details of how many officers had sought to be rehoused. But officials say in recent months the targeting of police officers’ homes has been stepped up, as dissident republicans seek to force a hardline security response and in that way embarrass Sinn Féin, which now supports the police.

In a rising property market, the minister would normally be able to fund the purchase of new houses by selling the homes the police officers had vacated. In 2006 the Northern Ireland housing executive, which handles all public housing in the province, sold 2,201 houses, typically to their occupiers. That raised £100m. Last year 54 houses were sold, raising just £4m.

Under the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme, the minister has so far this year bought eight houses at a cost of £1.5m, yet there are 61 applications being processed – and not all those who apply are police officers.