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Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward conference speech rapped

Shaun Woodward has been challenged to produce his own vision for Northern Ireland's economy after using his conference speech to attack plans for a corporation tax cut.

Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary was branded "out of touch" after his speech in Liverpool slammed proposals for the tax cut, which many business leaders believe could help rejuvenate the local economy.

Mr Woodward had branded the coalition's economic policies a "failing gamble" with a "careless impact" on public services, saying one in five young people here was unemployed.

The Executive is currently waiting on a Treasury decision on whether the power to set the rate will be devolved to Stormont.

Political leaders here have backed the move, claiming that lowering the present 26% rate would enable the region to compete with the Republic, where the rate is 12.5%.

But Finance Minister Sammy Wilson recently warned any future cut to the corporation tax rate would have to wait for at least four years.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Woodward branded the cut a "huge gamble", warning of the impact of a block grant cut on the public sector.

But his remarks came in for heavy criticism from business leaders and political opponents.

Glyn Roberts from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said it was time for Mr Woodward to spell out his alternative for kickstarting the economy.

"If Mr Woodward doesn't agree with corporation tax then many people would be keen to see him spell out his alternative," he said.

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie also disagreed with her sister party on the corporation tax cut, saying Mr Woodward was "missing the point".

And the Labour man was slammed by DUP MP Ian Paisley jnr, who said: His comments are disappointing and show how out of touch he is with where the politics of Northern Ireland is on all of these matters."

Secretary of State Owen Paterson said Labour had 13 years to deal with the issue and had failed.

"The Government has said that we will set out our position shortly and that is what we fully intend to do," he said.

Addressing the party faithful, Mr Woodward was applauded as he praised the work of the PSNI, saying: "Their collective commitment to serve the community, regardless of risk, is quite simply heroic."

He also warned of the threat from dissidents, adding: "We need to ensure that the world knows the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have moved on. But we will not ensure lasting security by pretending the real dangers posed by increasing numbers of dissidents have gone away."

He also accused the Government of "reneging" on a Good Friday Agreement pledge for a bill of rights and criticised the scale of spending cuts.

And on an inquiry into the death of solicitor Pat Finucane, first promised by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, he urged Owen Paterson to "beware of breaking your promises".

"Why are the Finucane family still waiting? If it is his intention to renege on the commitment, I urge him to think again," he said.

But critics said he was highlighting issues that had been "kicked into the long grass" during his reign as Secretary of State.

Conservative Patrick Mercer, a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland, accused him of having a "jaundiced eye".

He said: "The Government is dead right on Pat Finucane. If we are not careful we will be having inquiries into inquiries into inquires.

"This may keep a small number of people happy, but Northern Ireland has to get on with the future.

"Shaun Woodward is on the wrong track with that.

"You have to ask, the Labour Party was in power for 12 years - why didn't they carry out an inquiry if they feel so strongly about it? Many of the points he's raised are exactly the points that he was kicking into the long grass when he was Secretary of State."

Factfile

Key points from Shaun Woodward's speech to the Labour Party conference.

  • Corporation tax branded "a huge gamble" which risks "making a bad situation worse".
  • Called for an inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane, saying: "The Secretary of State should beware of breaking your promises."
  • Spending cuts are having "a careless impact" on public services in Northern Ireland.
  • Praised the work of the PSNI, while highlighting the increasing threat from dissidents.
  • Claimed that Ed Miliband's conference vision of a "new bargain" could draw inspiration from the peace process.


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