Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Corporation tax needs cool heads

While spats between politicians always have to be consumed with a large dose of salt, there seems little doubt that the relationship between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, is anything but cordial.

Following his criticism of the parties last week for failing to reach agreement on a shared future strategy and suggesting that the Assembly should be trimmed and include an opposition, Mr Paterson now finds himself being belaboured by the outspoken Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

Mr Wilson's attack on Mr Paterson, saying he is unable to deliver a cut in corporation tax, was strongly worded and pointed.

However it has to be viewed against the background of continuing Treasury hostility to the tax cut - and Mr Wilson's sometimes seemingly lukewarm endorsement of the move.

Essentially Mr Wilson is arguing that if it corporation tax is not reduced it would not be the fault of local politicians, but a failure by the Secretary of State to convince Westminster mandarins of the value of the move.

Local politicians like trying to pressurise Westminster by holding it up to ridicule in the court of public opinion. It is a tried and tested tactic but they have a compelling case.

They can point to the success of a low corporation tax rate in the Republic in attracting inward investment and can argue that it offers the best prospect of kick-starting the local economy and growing the private sector.

The problem is that the debate has got personal, which could backfire.

The issue could easily get bogged down in some kind of trench warfare with blame flying in all directions and nothing being achieved.

That would be a disastrous outcome, for whether the local politicians like it or not, Mr Paterson could be an influential friend pressing their case with the Westminster government.

Points have been made, but now is the time for serious debate on a vital issue.