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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 22:25 GMT
MLAs vote to back spending plans
Finance Minister Peter Robinson outlined the budget
Finance Minister Peter Robinson outlined the budget
Northern Ireland's assembly members have voted in favour of the executive's first programme for government and investment strategy.

The plans which include wide-ranging economic initiatives were passed by 60 votes to 24 after a six-hour debate.

SDLP MLAs voted against the proposals although its only Stormont minister, Margaret Ritchie, voted in favour.

The SDLP's actions were heavily criticised by its coalition partners, the DUP, Sinn Fein and the UUP.

The party's only minister, Margaret Ritchie, voted with the other executive parties and will do so during Tuesday's budget vote, which the SDLP is expected to oppose.

The SDLP appears to be staking a claim to be the opposition within
Gareth Gordon
BBC NI political correspondent
But her party is making it clear they are not bound by the ministerial code, unlike Ms Ritchie who would have to leave government if she voted against the plans.

A DUP source said Ms Ritchie has been "hung out to dry" by her party colleagues; a source in the Ulster Unionist Party said she has been "abandoned" while a Sinn Fein source said the move was "ridiculous" and "demonstrated a lack of political leadership".

The SDLP's Declan O'Loan said they were "left with no choice" but to vote against the proposals.

"The SDLP were refused a vote on our amendment in which we raised concerns that the draft programme for government does not address social and economic needs, support for the community and voluntary sector or promote policies for a shared future," he said.

'Disarray'

Following the vote, Alliance Party leader David Ford said the "logic of the SDLP's position" was that they should pull out of the executive.

"Despite Margaret Ritchie's achievements as a minister, it is clear that both the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP are in total disarray. With the entire assembly group having voted against their minister, the SDLP must now take action."

BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon said "the SDLP appears to be staking a claim to be the opposition within".

The move is not expected to bring down the executive, with the SDLP making it clear they have no intention of withdrawing saying they have a mandate to be there.

Mr Paisley told the assembly earlier: "The programme for government is for and about the people of Northern Ireland and the lives that they will lead.

"We must ensure that we deliver on our commitments and make a positive difference that we can all be proud of."

Mr McGuinness said: "The investment strategy underpins the ambitious goals we have set out in the programme for government.

"We are determined to put right the previous years of under investment and to lay the foundations of our future prosperity."

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