Budget passes but two Executive parties oppose it.

The Budget has passed the Assembly with a vote of 62 for, with 30 against.

The DUP and Sinn Fein voted for the budget with Alliance, SDLP, UUP, TUV, Greens, Basil McCrea, John McCallister and Claire Sugden voting against.

In explaining their opposition to the budget, Trevor Lunn said;

This Budget was circulated to Executive Ministers at 9pm on December 16 ahead of the Executive meeting at 11am the following day. That is clearly not enough time to discuss, debate and formulate ideas around what is a vital document regarding the future finances of Northern Ireland.

One of the main issues is around the decision to set a date and rate of Corporation Tax. That means the requirement to invest in skills takes on an increased urgency, but this Budget actually places further pressure on our skills base, which is already being hollowed out through budget cuts.

As on previous occasions, the DUP and Sinn Fein have displayed an arrogant disregard for the democratic process over this matter. This document is not in any way strategic – it misses opportunities to invest in the economy and address serious problems at the same time.

Then we had the SDLP leader arguing for the need to have an alternative;

This is a Budget which gives up and gives in. It is a Sinn Fein/DUP Budget that exposes the ambition behind their nine years in power. They believe Stormont only has to exist. Theirs is the ideology of just keeping the show on the road. Nothing more. The cuts to Education and Skills show this most.

“48 hours after the Vice-Chancellors of our two universities warned on Radio Ulster that higher education faced dire choices, this budget cuts a further £24 million from higher education and skills. 2,000 student places have already been cut; this budget ensures that number will spiral further.

“These are choices which fail young workers. These are choices which ensure the continued exodus of 24,000 of our young people each and every year. Reduced corporation tax will have little impact if we have no young people to fill the new jobs.

“Ever since the 1947 act, education has played a massive role in the story of the North. History records its role in creating the civil rights generation.  That history is something which obviously runs especially deep in the hearts and minds of the Nationalist community. We know the importance of access to education.

“Sinn Fein are now stripping away that progress, piece by piece, student place by student place. For Sinn Féin to be removing access to education to this generation is nothing short of a disgrace. Let them be warned, the Nationalist community of the North, this generation, will not forgive them for it.

“Different priorities were possible.

“There is £1.7 billion pounds with no clear allocation. £1 billion in the RRI, £600 million from the HS2 Barnett consequential and £100 million in the Northern Ireland Investment Fund which could be prioritised to achieve more.

“The SDLP believes that the politics of this place can reach for more. We believe in different priorities, priorities which invest in people and invest in the future.

“We believe that the North can do better than this. We believe the North has to do better than this.

“That’s the choice in May’s elections. That’s the alternative on offer.”

This is all well and good from both Alliance and the SDLP, but once again we are in a situation where Executive parties vote against the Executive budget.

If there is a genuine alternative then spell it out and tell us how things will be different if we vote for you on May 5th.

Nobody is expecting a detailed spreadsheet but a commitment to in the next term not persisting with the farce of being in government and opposition at the same time would be a start.  If we could get some sense of a credible direction of travel under your plan, that would be good too. Like would you bring in revenue raisers to fund extra spending?

I am sure there is plenty to critique in this budget and much that can be improved, but I genuinely hope that after May 5th this sham of having two bob each way on budgetary matters (normally regarded as confidence measures) ends.

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  • Ernekid

    I think it’s massively disingenuous of the SDLP and Alliance to pretend that they are in opposition but continue to remain in the Executive. If they had any balls they would resign from the Executive over this on a point of principle and formally recognise what everyone has known since the Assembly was set up in 2007 and that the Executive is a DUP-Sinn Fein dyarchy and the smaller parties are essentially irrelevant.

    I’d have a bit of respect of Colum Eastwood if he had the courage to lead his party out of the Executive and set up a de-facto opposition with Mike Nesbitt, the longer they stay in the Executive, with parties they clearly can’t abide, then the question of “what exactly is the point of the SDLP?” just gets stronger.
    Theres no point whinging about the actions of your Executive colleagues if you can’t provide a realistic alternative.

  • Brendan Heading

    I have to admit I have a great deal of sympathy with Simon Hamilton’s comments yesterday. He said that none of those complaining about cuts were prepared to offer suggestions as to where money could be found to rescind cuts.

    It’s a rather sad political gimmick to sit at the sidelines and yell abuse at the government without proposing alternatives.

    The answer to this is, of course, very easy. We pay the lowest regional taxes of anywhere in the UK – so we need to raise more revenue. Why are so few prepared to say this out loud ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Alliance spent a long time outside of the Executive. The problem is that it’s not simply about “courage” – the system, by design, makes it very difficult to accomplish anything. Half a loaf is better than no bread, and both the SDLP and Alliance have at least some chance of shaping government policy by being in post rather than outside.

    You have to cast your mind back to 1998. Back then, we all thought that we could make devolved government stick as long as a way could be found to prevent the DUP from wrecking it. That’s how we ended up here.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Surely agreeing to the budget, irrespective of how unwillingly, is fundamental to a party’s participation in government? If they can’t influence the budget, what chance is there really of them shaping government policy? And if they can’t shape government policy from within the Executive, what is the point of anyone voting for these parties?

  • Gopher

    Meaningless stunt they had thirty votes they could have lodged a petition of concern and blocked it, they did not. It is self evident that the budget has to pass or else the executive falls.

  • Robin Keogh

    The opposition are supposed to pull lumps out of the government, its part of the process; faux outrage, disgust at failures, shock at neglect, dissapointment at lost opportunities blah blah blah. But when the opposition is actually part of the government it all rings hollow. Walk away and take up proper opposition to prove your sincerity. Dún do bhéal, oscail an doras, féadfaidh tú imeacht agus ní bheidh aon oibleagáid. ( shut up, open the door and walk away without a worry)

  • AndyB

    Dún an doras surely? 😉

  • Robin Keogh

    I meant open the door and feck off. Lol. Sorry.

  • Zig70

    Have to say the vice-Chancellor annoyed me. Dire consequences? Excuse me, but how much is he paid. He’s not facing anything like dire himself. Us alone more like.

  • Granni Trixie

    Prescription and Water charges may be a drop in the ocean of what’s needed but it is a contribution. Then there’s the cost of a duplication of education establishments (teacher trainng and schools) not to mention the cost of implementing the Education policy to pay for advertising in English and Irish.

  • Brendan Heading

    “not necessarily” is the short answer to all of the above. Mandatory coalition turns all of our normal assumptions about how government works upside down.

    Ministers in the Executive are there because the law gives them an automatic right to be there based on a mathematical formula. This removes any motivation for ministers to find agreement with each other. The (forlorn) hope obviously is that they get together and work things out anyway.

    Ministers in normal governments often do not get to influence the budget to any significant extent.

    Alliance ministers certainly have been able to shape policy from within the Executive. Ford, for example, has been able to ensure that the government’s role in dealing with the issue of abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality was brought to the proper attention of the executive and the public.

    As for the “what is the point” thing, you obviously have to calibrate your expectations. It is ultimately the electorate who appoint the government and decide what character it will have. The government in Northern Ireland reflects the will of the electorate, whether we like it or not.

  • Brendan Heading

    Indeed, but the thing is that SF (in particular) are going around saying that they can’t increase spending because they don’t have fiscal powers. Not only is this completely untrue, but it’s dishonest – why complain about fiscal powers if you have no intention of using them to raise tax ? It’s notable that the only time we have made any serious effort to campaign for more fiscal authority is so that we can reduce our revenue even further (corporation tax) ..

  • Starviking

    The Petion of concern can be lodged with 30 signatures, but it can only block if it has 40% or more Unionist or Nationalist votes. The DUP has 70% of the Unionist designations, and SF have 67% of the Nationalist designations.

    Without defections a PoC is destined to fail.

  • Dan2

    Sdlp and Alliance have no honour whatsoever.
    How on earth can they remain in the Executive having opposed the budget.

  • Neil

    It’s farcical really. Here comes the election, so obviously it’s time for the sniping to begin. The SDLP will concentrate their fire on SF, and without doubt SF will reciprocate. The UUP will snipe at the DUP and they in turn will return fire at the UUP. Alliance will snipe at everyone but not too much because they are dying to be in the game.

    The fact that the main Nationalist and Unionist parties direct their ire at their electoral competitor may make perfect sense politically, but it kind of demonstrates how important policy matters actually are, which is to say they’re not important at all. All very predictable and dull. I predict a further plummet in Nationalist voters turning out this year, possibly the Unionist vote will start to follow suit, realistically why bother?

  • Reader

    David McCann: This is all well and good from both Alliance and the SDLP, but once again we are in a situation where Executive parties vote against the Executive budget.
    It’s really an SF/DUP budget rather than an executive budget, as Trevor Lunn’s opening sentence makes clear.
    However, given your approach to Executive conformity, how about this: Suppose that DUP/UUP/Alliance pushed a proposal through the Executive; do you think SF & SDLP would then be obliged to support it in the Assembly or go into opposition?
    And would it be reasonable for an Executive party to use a PoC to oppose an Executive motion in the Assembly?

  • Gopher

    Thanks for correcting me I forgot. Makes the original petition of concern with regards a non sectarian bill that is a budget even more absurd. The SDLP can petition it if they agree with SF but can’t do anything about it when they don’t. What do Alliance count as in these petitions? If anyone wants to test the petition of concern in the courts it would not stand up to scrutiny from equality legislation.

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. I’m not aware that the DUP and Sinn Féin were keen on backing the SDLP and UUP’s budgets when they were the larger parties.

    DUP opposed very first budget of the Northern Ireland Assembly as did Alliance (who to be fair were in opposition at this time).

    The DUP, members of the government at the time even tried to introduce their own budget… http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/plenary/details.aspx?&ses=14&doc=901&pn=0&sid=vd

    And indeed Sinn Féin recently voted against another motion to introduce a budget recently over welfare reform only last year.

    2. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin have the maturity or the trust in one another to come up with any better solution to the Department of Justice issue other than to give the role to Alliance. So there is no blaming Alliance for the fact that the political establishment fears either of these parties taking the job!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Alliance took the justice ministry back in 2010, the Assembly really started in 2000, and the Executive was suspended for 5 years. So in theory Alliance were “in opposition” for around 5 years, out of Stormont for around 5 years and in government for around 5 years.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘Mandatory coalition turns all of our normal assumptions about how government works upside down.”

    And inside out and outside in as well – Symptomatic of a divided and ultimately non workable political experiment .But there is’nt an alternative until NI no longer exists in it’s present format .

    The (forlorn) hope obviously is that they get together and work things out anyway.

    A case of the DUP frog in midstream with an SF scorpion on its back and an SF frog in the same midstream with a DUP scorpion on it’s back .

  • Robin Keogh

    Irrelevant. The point still stands. If you cant cope in governemnt, go into opposition and sell yourself on the streets as a more capable alternative. Let the people decide.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Actually it is completely relevant, both the DUP and Sinn Féin would vote against any budget in which they don’t get what they want. If Sinn Féin initiated an alternative budget last year it would be voted down too by the DUP.

    It’s perfectly legitimate for a government party to vote against the budget if there hasn’t been a collective responsibility mechanism but in place, why should Alliance and the SDLP or indeed the UUP or anyone else be bound by collective responsibility when the DUP and Sinn Féin aren’t?

    There’s been no real attempt to achieve collective responsibility as has been seen in multiparty coalitions within the Republic such as the Rainbow Coalition.

    The DUP can oppose the collective will of the assembly by a petition of concern, it can defeat private members bills that have the backing of every other members through its use. Sinn Féin do likewise.

  • Robin Keogh

    What u are really arguing is that the system is broken and that it needs to be fixed. Fair enough.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The strength of any common framework between the DUP and SF particularly in a period of austerity is quite weak, that doesn’t require another systemic change, it requires a real attitude change to how these parties do business.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am not disagreeing with u kev, On that score. Ultimately the SDLP could choose to go into opposition and ask the electorate to put them in lead position to get their brand of policy and budget through.

  • Gingray

    Sorry, thats not how power sharing works in the North – Sinn Fein and the DUP certainly did not support the executive budget every time when the SDLP and UUP were the largest parties.
    So if it was good enough for SF, why is it not good enough for the SDLP? …

  • Robin Keogh

    Thats irrelevant. The shoes are on different feet. if SF were unhappy in the paat maybe they too should have considered opposition.they didnt, just like the SDLP arent now.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Going into opposition for this reason would be on principle for principles sake only. Does the SDLPs opposition to the budget undermine collective responsibility? No….because there’s none to begin with.

    These are straw man arguments. And it would be best illustrated if they ever did into opposition because when they voiced that opposition the retort would be the flip side of the argument. They would be told that “if you are unhappy with the government, why don’t you act on your mandate and take a place in the executive where you can influence things”.

    “Stop sniping fromantic the sidelines”

    It’s perfectly feasible to point out that the executive is lead by the holders of OFMDFM, to criticizes that stewardship while also contuing to take control and do a good job in a single ministry.

  • Gingray

    Oh come on Robin, it is not irrelevant unless you are a party loyalist! It is the same behaviour, you perhaps are biased?

    As a nationalist, I see no difference in the behaviour now of the SDLP or the behaviour then of SF – both sides will try to undermine the other, and it is much easier to do that from within the executive than without.

  • Starviking

    Alliance have no effect on PoCs – unless they re-designate. They did that once before, and it caused ructions. I doubt they’ll do it again.