Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 09:09 UK

Cameron clarifies his NI comments

Jeremy Paxman and David Cameron
Jeremy Paxman and David Cameron in conversation

David Cameron has denied that he is targeting Northern Ireland for severe spending cuts should the Conservatives make up the next Government.

The Tory leader said re-shaping the economy would be a long term project.

"At no point have I or any other member of my team stated or inferred we are targeting Northern Ireland for cuts," Mr Cameron told the Belfast Telegraph.

Some local politicians have said the Conservatives would make the biggest budget cuts.

In an interview with Jeremy Paxman on BBC 1 on Friday, Mr Cameron said Northern Ireland was a place where government spending must go down in proportion to the private sector.

He said he wanted to focus on promoting enterprise and providing what he called a "bigger, richer society".

"In Northern Ireland it is quite clear, almost every party, I think, accepts that the size of the state has got too big, we need a bigger private sector," he said.

Mr Cameron's comments have been backed by his electoral partners in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists, but attacked by other NI parties.

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey backed Mr Cameron, and said it was important to encourage growth across the economy.

"We want to build a vibrant private sector to take up the slack and create real and meaningful jobs,

"There will be no slash and burn policy here."

DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson said Mr Cameron's comments in the BBC interview suggested that Northern Ireland would suffer "disproportionate economic pain" under a Tory government.

Opposed

"Whilst we recognise the state of UK finances and the need for Northern Ireland to do its bit in the future, nevertheless David Cameron should not be unfairly targeting the Northern Ireland taxpayer," he said.

Sinn Fein's Fermanagh and South Tyrone candidate Michelle Gildernew also condemned Mr Cameron's words.

"Communities right across the north cannot afford this reckless move to be implemented and it must be opposed," she said.

"Citizens must consider their future in the time ahead, and consider what party, and which candidate can best represent the needs of the vulnerable, marginalised and disenfranchised within our society."

Mr Cameron's comments were also attacked by the SDLP, with its South Belfast candidate Alasdair McDonnell accusing the Conservative leader of singling out Northern Ireland for "special treatment".

He said: "The weak, the marginalised, the vulnerable and the low-paid public sector workers who keep our services ticking over are being lined up for sacrifice and sectarian head-counting will not save them."

Mr Cameron has also been criticised by Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who said that he had shown his "true colours".

She added: "People here will be angry that the Tories are virtually labelling us public enemy number one on spending.

"This shows how weak a hand the Ulster Unionists have in their link-up. They have sold their soul to the Tories for next to nothing."



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