An inquiry into institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland could be suspended due to a lack of funds.

Splits within the power sharing government at Stormont over spending have been blamed by First Minister Peter Robinson for the threat, which he branded an "outrage".

The inquiry was to focus on the treatment of young people, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers.

It also was to investigate houses run by nuns, brothers or the state.

The child abuse inquiry is being chaired by a retired High Court judge in Banbridge, Co Down, and was ordered by ministers.

The panel is considering cases between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995.

Mr Robinson said: "It would be an utter outrage if people who have waited for decades upon decades to have some opportunity, as a forum to have some justice done for the crimes that were committed against them."

He said: "If that had to be suspended because politicians are not prepared to take difficult decisions about finances."

Mr Robinson's Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin have been at loggerheads about a range of issues.

They are concerned over whether to implement cuts in welfare spending ordered by Westminster.

Another minister in Northern Ireland has already warned that free public transport for the elderly could be another casualty if welfare changes are not agreed.

As a result of the dispute, the ministerial executive at Stormont has been unable to agree on the redistribution of budget money known as the June monitoring round.

One of the schemes reliant on that funding is the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA).

Mr Robinson said: "The HIA is one of the areas which requires funds from the June monitoring round.

"The accounting officer from the department, I believe, would be acting illegally if he was to allow the inquiry to proceed unless there is funds available to pay for it."