The threat of cuts imposed by the new Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron, has brought together the leaders of the devolved Assemblies in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
With Chancellor George Osborne announcing 6 billion pounds sterling in cuts, Scottish nationalist Alex Salmond formed an alliance including Labour’s Welsh First Minister and its Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalist) Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the North’s First Minister, DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
The five-party coalition against cuts did not prevent the announcement of 704 million pounds in immediate budget cuts today. The North’s share amounts to some 128 million pounds.
Alex Salmond and Carwyn Jones met and Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at the Stormont Assembly outside Belfast today.
The political leaders are considering deferring cuts to next year and called today for Cameron to respect their legislatures.
“There is going to be more pain ahead and what we have to do is prepare for it,” Mr McGuinness said.
The three devolved administrations are expected to push for more cash to match some of the regeneration money being spent in England.
The Scottish administration has already decided to delay making the required savings until next year.
“All of our administrations know and understand that we are facing very difficult times ahead,” Mr McGuinness added. “Peter and I have discussed how we will deal with the situation that is before us as a result of the announcement today.”
There are fears in the North that the new coalition British government’s agenda could see over 10,000 jobs lost. Mr McGuinness said the priority would be defending plans to build the economy and protect public services.
“We are all conscious that the British government are going to announce a budget in something like 45 days’ time and we all know that the next number of years are going to be very, very difficult, so nobody should be under any illusion that the announcements made today is the end of it,” he said.
On Thursday, Cameron visited Belfast and granted permission to the Six-County administration to defer cuts for a year.
The mood between the new British Prime Minister and Robinson and McGuinness was reported to be “genial”.
Speaking outside Stormont Castle, Cameron said he was committed “getting the economy here in Northern Ireland going”.
The prime minister said: “It is an absolutely essential task that we have a strong recovery, good growth and a strong commercial and private sector here in Northern Ireland.”
In a message to republicans opposed to the peace process, Cameron said: “Let me say this to those who still want to wreck progress and peace in Northern Ireland ... Taking part in terror will not achieve anything apart from misery.
“Our commitment to Northern Ireland, our commitment to the devolved institutions, is absolute.”