Maurice Hayes: Sinn Fein has set its face against austerity in South but backed a tough budget across Border
IN the welter of debate on Brian Lenihan's Budget, it has passed almost unnoticed that on the day the Dail debated the IMF bailout, the Executive in Belfast brought to the Assembly an agreed draft budget covering the next four years of public expenditure in the North.
There are similarities: both target cuts in public expenditure and a curtailment of growth if not an actual reduction in services; both purport to extend for four years; and both are introduced in the shadow of impending elections. More significantly, both initiatives are a response to inexorable pressures from outside forces, on the one hand the IMF and the markets, on the other the reforming zeal of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and Treasury control of the block grant.
Unusually and eccentrically (but perhaps not for him) the draft budget which proposes cuts amounting to £4bn (€4.7bn) in public expenditure over the next four years, was hailed by Sammy Wilson, the DUP minister of finance as "a great Christmas present for the people of Northern Ireland". Well, thank you, Santa!