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Stranger Than Fiction

Mark Devenport | 16:57 UK time, Thursday, 11 November 2010

Due to my rather eccentric shift pattern, Wednesdays are my Sundays - the day I get off in lieu for working the weekend presenting "Inside Politics". So I didn't watch the proceedings at yesterday's Finance Committee until today.

So I've only just watched the video of the Ulster Unionist David McNarry raising with a rather bemused Finance department official the report which I broadcast on Evening Extra on Tuesday night.

In that broadcast I reported that the Finance Minister hoped to have a draft budget ready to present to the Assembly by next Tuesday, in order to expedite a final budget my mid February.

Mr McNarry declared that he "almost crashed my car" when he heard the report. If he had I would have been partly responsible for two Ulster Unionist collisions in one week, as Mr McNarry's colleague Basil McCrea is still sporting a black eye after an alteraction with a fallen tree during the storm on Sunday night.

However the Strangford MLA kept a grip on his steering wheel and phoned me to check out my report. I never name my sources, but was happy to confirm that I had indeed been briefed with the proposed timetable by way of clarification of some comments Sammy Wilson made during his question time on Tuesday afternoon.

During yesterday's Finance Committee, Mr McNarry described me as "an honourable broadcaster who wouldn't report on fiction". However last night a Stormont source told me the draft budget process will take longer - perhaps two or three weeks. This afternoon I got more confirmation that a draft budget will definitely NOT now be brought to the Assembly next Tuesday.

At this stage I don't know what impact this delay will have on the final budget. If that slips beyond mid February it will get perilously close to the end of the financial year at the start of April. Perhaps the Executive might truncate the period of consultation on the draft budget.

So apologies to Mr McNarry for causing him to swerve and maybe I have a career in fiction after all! For those who have suspected this all along, I'd like to point out that on Tuesday night I also reported that DUP sources were prepared to ring fence the health element of Michael McGimpsey's budget. That development was confirmed by Sammy Wilson the next day.

All the best works of fiction, I'm told, have a sprinkling of fact - just for the purposes of verisimilitude.


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