Belfast Telegraph

Leaders 'not obsessed with powers'

Northern Ireland's political leaders are not obsessed with stacking up more powers, the region's First Minister has claimed.

Peter Robinson said the power-sharing Stormont Executive had to prove it was capable of handling complex issues including financial management before further powers such as income tax responsibilities were devolved.

He said: "We are open to look at further powers but we are not obsessed by this issue of stacking up more powers.

"I think what we need to do is to prove that we can operate on the powers that we presently have."

Mr Robinson was addressing a Westminster select committee examining the future of devolution following the Scottish referendum on independence as well as the implications of the Stormont House Agreement.

Members of the Political and Constitutional Committee, who met in Belfast's Stormont Hotel, have previously travelled to Cardiff and Edinburgh to take views from local politicians.

Mr Robinson added: "We have to prove that we can deal responsibly with financial management. While any individual party might say it was capable of doing that when you are in a five party coalition, on many occasions moving in a different direction, it is important that as a collective we are able to show that we are capable of dealing with those complex issues."

The First Minister's appearance before the inquiry coincided with an announcement that corporation tax powers are to be handed from Westminster to Stormont.

However, Mr Robinson claimed there would be little net gain in changing the current income tax system, at this stage.

He said: "We are a region of 1.8 million people. I can't see that we a going to be significantly capable of changing social and economic outcomes in Northern Ireland as a result of any change to income tax system.

"If it were so, then I think there would be an argument. But there are cost issues attached to it as well.

"To have the equivalent to the Scottish revenue in Northern Ireland would be fairly costly."

The Stormont House Agreement which was brokered on December 23 following 11 weeks of negotiations tackled a number of intractable issues including the implementation of controversial welfare reforms.

The deal includes increased spending on integrated education, a new mechanism to investigate unsolved Troubles murders and plans to reduce the number of elected representatives in the Assembly as well as the number of government departments.

Mr Robinson conceded that although it was not entirely satisfactory there was "no real alternative" to the Barnett Formula -- the system which determine how much money Northern Ireland receives from Westminster.

"In many ways Barnett is as fair as you can get," said Mr Robinson.

"I know Wales is not content but neither is Northern Ireland for that matter."

Also, giving evidence to the committee inquiry was David Ford, leader of the cross community Alliance Party who backed the establishment of a federal-type system of government and Mike Nesbitt from the Ulster Unionist Party who stressed the importance of reducing the flight taxes known as Air Passenger Duty.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell insisted the "special relationship" with the Republic of Ireland had to be protected and hit out against the Treasury's desire for "uniformity".

He said: "One size does not fit all."

Following the Scottish independence referendum last September the cross-party Smith Commission on further devolution -- headed up by Lord Smith -- has recommended that Holyrood be granted control over certain benefits including attendance allowance, carer's allowance, disability living allowance, and the personal independence payment which will replace it.

However, although the commission backed the devolution of air passenger duty, a range of other taxes, including corporation tax and inheritance tax, would continue to be decided in London.

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