Belfast Telegraph

Cautious welcome for tax plans

Northern Ireland's First Minister has given a cautious welcome to the conditional devolution of corporation tax but blamed political rivals for the delay.

Peter Robinson conceded it was not unreasonable for Westminster to expect political stability before handing fiscal powers to Stormont however, he warned other political parties must "step up to the plate" and agree contentious welfare reforms before the opportunity was lost.

Mr Robinson said: "Let us be clear. If Sinn Fein and the SDLP had been prepared to agree the DUP 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.

"There are only a few weeks left for these parties to step up to the plate. If this opportunity is lost they will have to explain why they failed to behave in the best interests of our people and why they have rejected the opportunity to create up to an additional 50,000 jobs here."

Naomi Long from the cross community Alliance Party, also welcomed the Chancellor's announcement which she claimed should focus the minds of political leaders.

The East Belfast MP said: "A lower level of corporation tax cannot be successful in a vacuum. We need to see continued investment to assist economic growth, among other moves. Before making any commitments around a revised rate of corporation tax, it is important the Executive sets out a clear and sustainable plan as to how this would be funded.

"We have been consistently calling for serious engagement from all parties on all the issues under consideration in these talks. This news increases the need for a comprehensive agreement dealing with all the topics on the table, not a piecemeal approach."

Danny Kinahan, the Ulster Unionist Party's (UUP) economy spokesman, described George Osborne's agreement in principle as a step in the right direction.

He said: "The devolution of corporation tax has been tied to a successful outcome of the current talks process being chaired by the Secretary of State. The UUP remains fully engaged in that process, and focused on the need for the Northern Ireland Executive to balance its books. We cannot go on saddling future generations with massive debt because we are living so far beyond our means."

However, not everyone is pleased with the Chancellor's announcement.

North Antrim MLA Jim Allister, a long-time sceptic of the benefits of corporation tax devolution, said he believed the issue should now be put to bed.

Mr Allister, whose Traditional Unionist Voice party does not have a seat on the power-sharing Executive, said: "If the Chancellor means what he says corporation tax devolution should be off the table for the foreseeable future as Stormont has patently failed to manage its financial affairs. Scrambling together a deal for the optics hardly meets that test.

"However, I suspect that in truth corporation tax will come to Stormont if unionists roll over in the current talks. But corporation tax is a poisoned carrot about which we should be wary."

Sinn Fein said the party would not be pushed into implementing Tory cuts.

The party's finance spokesman Daithi McKay accused the Chancellor of arrogance.

Mr McKay said: "Sinn Fein will not be taking any lectures from George Osborne.

"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."

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