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Benefits of corporation tax cut flowing away thanks to logjam, business chiefs told

By John Mulgrew

The opportunity for Northern Ireland to take advantage of the lowest corporation tax rate in the UK is slipping away, business leaders have been told.

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken was speaking during the CBI Northern Ireland annual dinner at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

He was joined by senior members of the main parties at a time when Stormont remains in political limbo.

The devolved institutions collapsed in January and talks are on hold until after the June 8 general election.

"We need to see the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly up and running. We must have confidence back in Northern Ireland," Mr Aiken said.

The UUP economy spokesman said Northern Ireland's proposed low corporation tax rate of 12.5% had "dissipated away" following delays, with the Government now discussing cutting the duty to 15% across the UK.

On Brexit, he said: "I was a Remainer, but the vote has been taken so we have to get on with it and get the best deal possible. We need to make sure our voice is being heard."

He said Northern Ireland needed to continue to invest in universities.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said that the "key goal" for Northern Ireland business, the devolution of corporation tax, "cannot happen" without a devolved administration.

"I think it's important we pursue it and push through with it," he added.

Alliance's Stephen Farry was more upbeat. He said: "On a positive note... we have seen the Northern Ireland economy growing in a very big way.

"We have become a major centre for inward investment, and on the other side of the coin we have seen progress in bringing down unemployment."

However, he said the challenges of the political impasse were having a direct impact on funding for key areas. "Some initiatives around skills are being stalled," he said.

Addressing the issue of growth, he added: "It is the city of Belfast that will drive the Northern Ireland economy as a whole."

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said his party will work to restore the institutions.

The former Finance Minister said: "For the peace process for our children and grandchildren... I pledge we will continue to do that." And he added: "It's our resolve to continue to campaign against the lunacy of Brexit." SDLP MP Mark Durkan said Northern Ireland cannot grow and expand business "until we have the Executive up and running".

But he said relying on devolving corporation tax alone as a selling point for Northern Ireland was "not enough". Addressing the guests, CBI regional director Angela McGowan warned that the effect "any political vacuum has on the business community should never be underestimated".

She said that business, job creation and investment were at risk with the continued political impasse.

"Having a devolved government up and running again before the end of June is critical for local firms," she said.

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