Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Economy still our biggest challenge

The Government's austerity measures continue to create controversy, and this found expression in the large rallies which took place in Belfast and elsewhere on Saturday to protest against child poverty, job cuts and welfare reform. Also highlighted was the continuing uncertainty over corporation tax in Northern Ireland.

The marches followed on from the Assembly expressing its support for Westminster's plans for the biggest shake-up in welfare for a generation, but the acrimony of the Stormont debate showed the depth of feeling in the province about the proposed new measures.

The disturbances in other parts of Europe are a continuing witness to the unpopularity of austerity measures which are causing hardship in so many places, but there are no easy answers.

Northern Ireland is in a particularly difficult situation because of its dependence on the public sector for employment, and any cuts in these areas will have a direct effect on many families here.

The economic outlook remains gloomy, and the Belfast Telegraph summarised the situation with our story last week emphasising the downturn in manufacturing and construction jobs, which gave First Minister Peter Robinson a further opportunity to remind the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, of the seriousness of the situation.

The struggling economy in Northern Ireland was also emphasised by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, in his annual Bodenstown address, though many people north of the border will find his comments unhelpful, particularly in questioning the workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

As well as Stormont, it is equally incumbent on the Secretary of State to give a lead here, but Theresa Villiers has yet to show a firm grasp of the situation, particularly on corporation tax.

The Stormont ministers have a difficult job to maintain the right balance on jobs and the economy, but the First and Deputy First Ministers have shown leadership, particularly in their recent announcement of plans to create jobs for teachers. However, much still needs to be achieved.

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