“making tough choices for the good of the country…”

And so it came to pass…  After weeks of political posturing the Northern Ireland Executive stayed up late last night to discuss DUP/Sinn Féin proposals for the draft NI Budget.

And with those two parties having enough votes in the Executive – the UUP and SDLP abstained with the Alliance Party’s minister agreeing the proposals – today the Assembly is being immediately bumped into passing agreeing the draft ahead of a public consultation…

The title quote is Jim Fitzpatrick’s prediction of the spin from OFMDFM.  And he was right.

I’m still waiting to see more detail of the actual proposals, but according to reports there is a reliance on the disposal of public assets…

The NI Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, will be pleased.

Meanwhile, Liam Clarke has another proposal

Now is the time to agitate for legislation to extend such rights to any party that chooses to go into opposition.

Doing the unexpected is always a risk, but it could lift the SDLP and UUP out of their current obscurity. They could be seen as principled politicians who won’t cling to office at any price, and who represent a plausible alternative government.

Declaring a willingness to pull out of the executive would immediately increase their leverage. The DUP like to have political cover from other unionists, and would not wish to be in office with Sinn Féin on their own. Both big parties would prefer their smaller rivals as junior partners in government than as leaders of an opposition. The perception that the smaller parties could no longer be taken for granted would increase their influence.

It’s a risk, but the alternative is to carry on as they are, and wait to be thanked in the history books.

Adds  NI Finance Minister’s statement on draft budget.

Draft Budget 2010 online.

And the draft budget 2010 document [pdf file]