Belfast Telegraph

Accusations fly within minutes of statement ending

By Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson has insisted that the devolution of corporation tax powers could have begun as early as next week - if Sinn Fein had agreed to welfare reform.

Within minutes of the Chancellor's speech yesterday the First Minister launched an attack on his Executive colleagues.

"The DUP have taken all the necessary hard decisions relating to the economy, welfare reform and the budget. The failure of other parties has caused this delay," he said.

"Let us be clear. If Sinn Fein and the SDLP had been prepared to agree the DUP's enhanced welfare reform proposal and if the SDLP, UUP and Alliance had been sufficiently mature to take the difficult decision to support the draft budget, we would have been moving to legislate for corporation tax powers to be devolved on Monday."

But Mr Robinson also added: "While the Chancellor's conditional statement falls short of the oft-repeated promise to decide whether Northern Ireland would be given such fiscal powers by the time of the Autumn Statement, it is not, in my view, unreasonable for the government to satisfy itself that it is placing those powers in a stable political environment where there will be responsible financial management."

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, attacked the "breathtaking arrogance" of the Chancellor who they lambasted for presiding over "Dickensian levels" of spending cuts and austerity.

SF finance spokesman and the chair of Stormont's finance committee, Daithí McKay, hit out: "(We) will not be taking any lectures from George Osborne, the architect of the most vicious attack on public services since the inception of the welfare state."

The party has lobbied for full fiscal powers, including corporation tax, to be devolved to the Assembly, but also said it would have to decide how and when to use it.

"We need to carefully consider what we would do with that power, whether we would reduce it or not, and if so, by how much.

"And, of course, this issue cannot be seen in isolation from the very real financial pressures we as an Executive are currently facing - pressures largely created by the year-on-year cuts to the Executive's budget implemented by George Osborne," Mr McKay added.

"The Executive should not have to carry the cost of any variation while the British government gains financially from an increased tax take from the creation of new jobs. A scenario where we take the pain and the British government takes the gain is not acceptable.

"Tax varying powers should now be transferred without conditions so that we, not George Osborne, can then decide on how we will use this power."

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone also warned against the Chancellor using the issue as a "bargaining chip", and hit out at the lack of detail in the announcement.

"While the British Government may try to use this as a bargaining chip in the talks, it is important that all parties refuse to be strong- armed by the Tories into making concessions that are not in the best interests of people here," he said. "The talks outcome should be comprehensive, decisive, but most of all, should meet the needs of the people we represent, not the desires of an austere Chancellor in London."

Ulster Unionist economy spokesman Danny Kinahan warned the current financial debacle at Stormont was the worst possible context for contemplating introducing a lower corporation tax rate.

"Of necessity, any reduction in the rate of corporation tax will have to be carefully planned and phased," he said.

"First of all, however, Stormont needs to get its public finances onto an even keel."

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