A hole in Stormont's safety net?

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster's leaked finance paper warns of a possible £2.8bn cut to the Stormont budget

Arlene Foster's latest finance paper increases the pressure on Stormont politicians as they continue to lock horns over welfare reform.

Until now the parties had been under the impression they had the benefit of a safety net that would allow Permanent Secretary of the Finance Department, David Sterling to pass an emergency 95% budget if an act has not passed through the assembly by the end of July.

A 5% cut to departmental coffers sounds unpleasant and potentially damaging to the provision of public services, but not a doomsday scenario.

However, the Arlene Foster paper introduces the added complication that Mr Sterling won't be able to authorise the Stormont departments to use other amounts, such as EU farm payments, fees from planning applications and money from pension funds.

This cash is known in accountant's jargon as 'accruing resources'.

Read full article A hole in Stormont's safety net?

NI general election campaign packed with incident

House of Commons
The local race for the House of Commons was packed with incident

While it hasn't been an epic encounter like the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement or the following struggles for dominance within unionism and nationalism, I don't agree that the 2015 Westminster campaign has been lacklustre.

At times it felt disjointed as the local parties fought over different territory.

Read full article NI general election campaign packed with incident

Same-sex marriage: Should NI voters get to decide in a referendum?

Same-sex marriage figures on wedding cake
MLAs have rejected the proposal to introduce gay marriage in four votes at the Northern Ireland Assembly, but should members of the public have their say on the issue?

So, if voters in the Republic of Ireland are going to the polls to give their views on same-sex marriage on 22 May, why shouldn't their counterparts north of the border get the same opportunity?

That's what Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness wants, and both the SDLP and Alliance are prepared to give the idea a fair wind.

Read full article Same-sex marriage: Should NI voters get to decide in a referendum?

Election 2015: Why would next government woo DUP?

Proposal
Will Conservatives or Labour make a proposal to the DUP?

It looked for a while that the most remarkable aspect of a relatively low-key campaign could be two of the Stormont parties apparently breaking the rules over their manifesto launches.

First, UKIP left itself open to a dressing down from the Assembly Commission over its use of a committee room to promote its local policies .

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Welfare and election 2015: Crossing swords over welfare reform?

Cash
Sinn Féin withdrew their support for a deal on welfare reform in March

Last week, the DUP and Sinn Féin crossed swords over the wisdom of delaying finding a solution to Stormont's welfare reform difficulties until after next month's Westminster election.

The DUP leader Peter Robinson said that "by refusing to settle this matter until after the election, Sinn Féin will cause further cuts to public services. No doubt when services are cut Sinn Féin will, without embarrassment, blame everyone else".

Read full article Welfare and election 2015: Crossing swords over welfare reform?

David Cameron finds changed political landscape in Northern Ireland

David Cameron and his wife Samantha were shown props and backdrops from the Game of Thrones TV series during their visit to Belfast
David Cameron and his wife Samantha were shown props and backdrops from the Game of Thrones TV series during their visit to Belfast

David Cameron's Game of Thrones visit to Belfast ticked a "four nations" box for the Conservatives.

But it also emphasised how much has changed in the last five years.

Read full article David Cameron finds changed political landscape in Northern Ireland

Stormont welfare crisis: Risks of making judgement calls

Bookies
After previous efforts at offering odds, my career as a tipster is on hold

I'm not a betting man, but inevitably in my line of work I am sometimes pressed to make judgement calls, some of which I come to regret.

So it was that on Good Morning Ulster during the marathon Stormont House talks, the presenter Conor Bradford backed me into a corner and demanded that I should call it "deal or no deal?"

Read full article Stormont welfare crisis: Risks of making judgement calls

Sinn Féin resilient despite new IRA sex abuse allegations

Paudie McGahon
County Louth man Paudie McGahon told the BBC's Spotlight programme that an IRA man abused him and then threatened him to remain silent.

A BBC Spotlight programme has again exposed the underbelly of republicanism, and what Gerry Adams himself describes as the "inadequate and inappropriate" way the IRA dealt with allegations of sexual abuse in the past.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was more colourful, calling the treatment of County Louth man Paudie McGahon an intolerable "kangaroo court".

Read full article Sinn Féin resilient despite new IRA sex abuse allegations

DUP weigh up their options after BBC TV debate decision

Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds
Senior DUP figures including Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds will be mulling over the decision

So the BBC Trust has backed the Corporation's editors over their decision not to invite the DUP on to its planned seven party UK election debate.

The trust, which is the oversight body for the BBC, found that the management's thinking was not unreasonable on a number of fronts.

Read full article DUP weigh up their options after BBC TV debate decision

MLAs turn from cuts to raising revenue

Stormont
The aim is to shave approximately £90m off the Stormont wage bill

As public sector unions announced plans to strike next month in protest against job losses and service cuts, senior finance department officials told MLAs they anticipated a high degree of interest in the voluntary exit scheme agreed during the Stormont House talks.

The aim is to shave approximately £90m off the Stormont wage bill - and that's just the scheme restricted to the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Read full article MLAs turn from cuts to raising revenue