Belfast Telegraph

Taxing questions as MLAs debate if they even want new fiscal powers

By Noel McAdam

Transferring fiscal powers to Stormont would be "no panacea" for Northern Ireland's economic difficulties, First Minister Peter Robinson has told the Assembly.

Challenged by Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly over whether Stormont should be seeking new powers in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, Mr Robinson said his colleague Finance Minister Simon Hamilton's department was drawing up a paper on the costs and benefits of devolving different taxes.

Mr Kelly said following the referendum the Assembly should be seeking the fullest possible transfer of powers – but declined to join with Mr Robinson in welcoming the outcome of the vote against independence.

Mr Robinson said he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness already had an economic pact agreed with London and the question was whether other levers could bring about "real and meaningful change".

The DUP leader said devolving corporation tax was "doable and valuable" – a decision from Prime Minister David Cameron is expected in the next few weeks – but that while transferring stamp duty, land tax and landfill tax could be "doable", he was not convinced of their benefits.

And while transferring VAT would give Stormont a lever to help hotels and restaurants, for example, it would incur considerable costs and lead to major difficulties with the European Union.

And on the devolution of income tax, which is being considered for Scotland in the aftermath of the independence referendum, Mr Robinson argued it would involve "very considerable difficulty and cost".

But he added it was "imperative" a solution was found over the the welfare reform stalemate before around £200m was lost to the public purse in Northern Ireland next year as a result of reductions in the province's block grant from the Treasury.

"We simply cannot tolerate a set of circumstances where £1 billion is to be taken off our budget," he added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he was "amazed" that just two weeks after Mr Robinson called Stormont "dysfunctional" he revealed that the Department of Finance was preparing a paper.

"The idea that an Assembly which cannot handle the powers it already has should be handed additional fiscal powers is the road to disaster.

"You cannot with any degree of credibility say that your government is "not fit for purpose" one day and talk about taking control of major economic levers the next," he added.

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