Northern Secretary Peter Hain today faced demands to plough million of pounds in peace process savings into frontline public services in the province.
Mr Hain was urged by Sinn Féin economy spokesperson Mitchel McLaughlin to release savings in the Ministry of Defence’s and Northern Ireland Office’s budgets following the scaling down of security in the wake of the IRA’s declaration of an end to its armed campaign last July.
“The latest expenditure figures for the NIO and MoD are £1.025bn (€1.5bn) and £682m (€994m) respectively,” the Foyle Assembly member said.
“Peter Hain says he wants to look at the expenditure of all government departments, and while many are suspicious that this is not good news for public services, the logic must be that he also examines the £1.7bn (€2.45bn) expenditure in this area.
“The return of the local institutions and progress on demilitarisation would suggest there is a huge amount of potential in cutting back on the NIO and military spending in order to direct money into frontline public services.”
In a speech to the Fabian Society at Stormont last month, Mr Hain announced plans for a comprehensive review of how taxpayers’ money is spent in the North.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said with 26 councils, four health boards, 19 health trusts, five education and library boards and around 100 other public bodies for a population of over 1.7 million, the province was over-administered.
“Government in Northern Ireland needs to be smaller to be more effective, ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent on the frontline,” he said.
Last November, Mr Hain said moves to slash the number of councils from 26 to just seven, the number of councillors from 582 to 350, health trusts from 18 to five, create one health authority and one education authority and cut the number of quangos could save at least £200m (€291m) a year.
The minister also announced last year in the Northern Ireland budget that household rates bills would rise by 19% in the North from this April in a bid to release more funds for public services over the next two years.
Water charges will also be introduced in 2007, when domestic rates bills will rise by 6%.
Mr McLaughlin said there was an onus on the British government to redirect funds previously spent on security into public services in the North.
“No one can escape the reality that much of the opposition to political progress is directed by the spooks and spies operating from within the NIO,” Sinn Féin’s general secretary continued.
“These are clearly people with a vested interest in blocking political progress because they recognise that as we move forward that their jobs will become superfluous.
“Further progress on the transfer of policing and justice powers to locally accountable ministers will further strip away the need to maintain the NIO.”