Budget Bill: Second Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:15 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 7:15 pm, 9th February 2016

Absolutely. Some of the projects-in-waiting are in the inner city. Some parties here do not have a lot of support in inner-city areas and are caustic about the social investment fund. In my view, however, the Sandy Row enterprise hub is a project that can transform Sandy Row. We need to put our shoulder to the wheel to make sure that these things happen. I am very proud of the fact that the A5 and A6 are now up and running. I salute those who convinced the Irish Government to put in their £75 million against our money. I welcome the fact that, through this Budget, we will start the north-west gateway between Derry and Donegal, as mentioned in the Fresh Start Agreement, with £1·5 million set against it.

I am enormously proud of the fact that we are spending £4·8 billion on our health service and well over £2 billion on our education service. Those who criticise and snipe at what we have done need to tell us what they would take from the health budget or the education budget and where they would put it. That is what has been absent. There have been attempts to denigrate the Budget, but there is no suggestion of where those people would take money from and where they would replace it.

In my view, not enough money is being set aside for economic development, but you can never have enough money. What we have done amounts to a good day's work: £170 million for Invest NI, £27 million for Tourism NI, £11 million for our friends in Tourism Ireland and £3 million for InterTradeIreland, with the last two being doubled by the Irish Government. That puts us on a strong footing as we move towards the introduction of corporation tax, making it affordable and ensuring that our people are skilled up and that we can grasp the full opportunity. Those are key achievements in the Budget of which we can be proud.

We can be very proud of the fact that we have capped student fees. Voices in the Chamber have said, "Heap more pain on students. Make them pay more for the liberation of a third-level education". We have said no to that. We have resisted calls in the Chamber to introduce water charges, which would be another tax on working families. We have stood by our senior citizens and refused to introduce fares for pensioners, and we will keep that free of charge. We have kept prescriptions free of charge. We can be proud of all those things. We have managed to deliver on those because of the leadership of the parties in the Chamber, in the Executive and in the main parties.

The only alternative that has been put up to the Budget is a suggestion from the SDLP that we take £800,000 from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and give it to women's centre kindergartens for childcare. Minister Morrow spoke positively last week, and I hope that he will find the £800,000 this week that we need for those hard-pressed women's centres and thus resolve the issue. But who will go into the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in the morning and tell them that they are losing £800,000 from their budget? Who will hand out the 20 P45s to the 20 workers? Who will go to the Victims and Survivors Service and say that we are going to take away its entire budget of £800,000? It is my belief that they have not looked at the figures. They say that OFMDFM administration costs are going up at 23%, but they have not looked at the complexities or the programmes that it has taken on board since 2012-13 and the logical reasons for that. The reasons why administration costs have increased have been spelt out and are on the record. If we allow for the additional work and contingencies that OFMDFM has taken on — for example, responsibility for advertising and other things from Departments — like every Department, OFMDFM has reduced its administration budget between 2012 and 2015-16.

So, from my point of view, does this Budget deliver everything and is it a wish list for everyone? No, it is not. Is it a good day's work? It is a very good day's work. When I listen to Eileen Evason and others who are at the coalface of delivering change and a fair deal for those who are on the dole, those who are seeking work and working families, I think it is a good day's work. I support the Budget, and I am proud to support it. I think that we have done well, and we will do better in the time ahead, especially as we unite to build the economy.