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Ministers approve Budget; Stormont in Budget deal after long talks.

Byline: DAVID YOUNG; STEVEN McCAFFERY

STORMONT ministers approved a four-year budget plan last night aimed at absorbing pounds 4 billion of spending cuts in Northern Ireland.

The move came after marathon late-night talks between the parties.

While the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party all approved the budget, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists abstained.

It is understood the health budget will not face significant cuts in the short term although potential NHS efficiencies will be explored by experts.

A plastic bag tax, a pay freeze for civil servants earning more than pounds 21,000 and a pounds 200million-plus raid on the reserves of Belfast Port and the region's housing associations are also believed to be among the measures in the four-year plan.

The freeze on the domestic regional rate is also expected to end, with rates instead rising in line with inflation.

Intensive negotiations over the Budget continued late into the night at Stormont Castle with Finance Minister Sammy Wislon holding oneto-one meetings n a bid to get the deal over the line.

The full Executive meeting, initially scheduled for 6pm, did not start until after 10pm.

The Executive's smaller parties, the Ulster Unionists and the nationalist SDLP, said they were willing to see the draft Budget brought forward.

However, they said they would stop short of supporting the deal immediately.

Both argued that because the package was primarily drafted by Sinn Fein and the DUP, they wanted more time to scrutinise it.

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DEAL Sammy Wilson TENSE McGuinness last night
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Title Annotation:News; Front Page
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 15, 2010
Words:253
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