Colum Eastwood highlights democratic deficit with Tories setting budget for Six Counties after securing 0.03% of the vote

Colum Eastwood highlighted the democratic deficit being suffered by the people of the Six Counties as a party that received 0.03 per cent of the vote in the last Assembly election moved to set a budget.

He was speaking as NIO Minister Steve Baker moved the NI Budget Bill for the second time.

Mr. Baker said he had no option but to act because the ‘NI parties have been unable to form an Executive and subsequently, therefore, to set a Budget’.

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The SDLP leader said this left the people in the north subject to a budget set by a party that received 254 votes in last May’s Assembly Election.

The Conservative Party received 254 votes (0.03 per cent) in the 2022 Assembly election.

“At the last election, the Conservative party in NI secured 0.03 per cent of the vote, but today the Conservatives are setting a Budget for the Departments and the people of NI.

"They are doing so because the DUP will not go into government and take control of the Department of Finance and set a Budget for the people of the north of Ireland,” he stated.

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The Foyle MP urged the DUP to take their position in a new power-sharing Executive. He suggested that with Sinn Féin having signalled their intention of taking the Economy Ministry in a new regional government if former, the DUP would be in a position to nominate a candidate for the Department of Finance under D'Hondt.

Addressing the erstwhile Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, Mr. Eastwood said: “He knows that I am no supporter of Sinn Féin, but has he noticed that Sinn Féin has said that it would take the Department for the Economy if an Executive were formed tomorrow?

"Given everything we have seen over the past 25 years, that would likely mean that the DUP would get the Department of Finance. Surely that is an incentive for the DUP to go back into government and put a Budget in place very quickly.”

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Mr. Wilson replied: “I do not want to get into history, but I would point out that in the first year I was Finance Minister, we had a 5 per cent cut in the Budget in the middle of the financial year as a result of decisions made here, and we agreed a Budget.

"Furthermore, we agreed a Budget not just for one year but for three years, so it is possible for the Assembly to make decisions. All I am saying is that, in its current form and with the current party holding the Department of Finance, that has not been possible.

"The point I am trying to make is that rather than lay the blame at the feet of the DUP for not operating an Executive—in which its views were excluded anyway—we should lay the blame for this situation at the feet of those who could not make an operable Budget even when the Executive was functioning.”

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The East Antrim MP also addressed NIO Minister Steve Baker’s contention that the north ‘gets treated more generously than the rest of the UK’.

He said: “I accept that, but so do Scotland and Wales. One of the important things about being part of the Union is that there are fiscal transfers from those parts of the country that have geographical, economic and infrastructure advantages that other parts do not have.”