Northern Ireland

David Ford: Justice Department facing £47m cuts

David Ford
Image caption Justice Minister David Ford said the June monitoring round was "a deceit"

Justice Minister David Ford has said his department is facing a budget shortfall of at least £47m, once further cuts are brought in in October.

Mr Ford blamed the shortfall on the ongoing dispute between the DUP and Sinn Féin about welfare reform.

Last week, it was confirmed that Stormont departments, excluding health and education, were to have their budgets cut by a total of £78m.

It was revealed the Justice Department would face the biggest cut - £22m.

However, Mr Ford said that figure - from the June (budget) monitoring round - was only the beginning.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton also warned that further cuts, amounting to £87m, would be required in October if a deal on welfare reform was not agreed.

"The reality is that the June monitoring round, which of course didn't happen until July, was a deceit because there was an acknowledgement that there would be further significant cuts to be made in October," Mr Ford said said.

"The reality is the Department of Justice is probably facing cuts in the region of £47m as a minimum, that's 4.4% of our budget."

Mr Ford said the cuts would have a severe effect on the work of his department.

"On the 3rd of July the chief constable spoke to the Policing Board about what was then seen as the potential of 2.9% cuts, not 4.4%, and he said that would directly impact on keeping people safe, it would directly impact on police recruitment," he said.

"That is the reality of what is happening and that is because of a fix between the DUP and Sinn Féin, brought about by Sinn Féin's unwillingness to accept the reality of welfare reform and the DUP's unwillingness to produce a realistic budget in the face of that."

Deputy Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said the police would, "discuss a range of proposals and options with the Policing Board to progress what areas will be affected by these significant budget cuts".

"Our immediate priority will be to keep people safe and I would like to reassure our communities we will make every effort to prevent cuts to frontline service delivery."

The Police Federation (PFNI), which represents rank-and-file officers, called for a rethink by the executive.

Its chairman, Terry Spence, said: "Policing cannot shoulder a cutback of this magnitude. We are already understaffed with a shortfall of some 1,000 officers. That situation can only deteriorate further if the PSNI is told to implement these draconian cutbacks".

Northern Ireland is being penalised by the Treasury for not endorsing welfare reforms passed by Westminster in February 2013.

Sinn Féin has led the opposition to the reforms.

On Wednesday, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said that tens of thousands of street lights could be out across Northern Ireland over the winter due to budget cuts to his department.

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