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Let's hope new Secretary is as passionate as last

When Owen Paterson was still a shadow minister he gave a speech at a lunch in Belfast's Wellington Park Hotel which lingers in the memory.

Even then, some five or so years ago, he was banging on about devolving Northern Ireland's powers to set corporation tax and even then he was met with scepticism by the assembled business crowd.

How did he plan to pay for it? How would he persuade the Treasury to go along with such a madcap idea? How would the other UK regions react to such seemingly preferential treatment shown to Northern Ireland?

Mr Paterson had all the answers and proceeded to champion the need for a cut in business tax here to the same level as in the Republic - a line he didn't drop when he came out from the shadow Government in 2010.

In fact, the vehement way he ramped up the campaign for the tax cut seemed to many to be dangerous to his own political position as it would have left him vulnerable had a thumbs down been given from the Treasury before he was out of office.

But it seems that his fight has caught the eye of David Cameron who has given him what could be considered a promotion with the job of Environment Secretary - so whatever the decision, Mr Paterson will be out of the picture.

Whatever you think of the minister - and there were plenty of people in the audience all those years ago ready to dismiss what they perceived to be a highfalutin Tory - you can't fault him for getting behind our economy with an energy which has rarely been seen from someone in his position.

And whatever you think about devolving corporation tax powers, there's no doubt Mr Paterson waved the flag for Northern Ireland businesses in the corridors of Westminster to good effect and managed to put some of the biggest issues of the day in front of senior Government.

No doubt he'll throw his energies into his new role and let's hope that new Secretary of State Theresa Villiers takes as much interest in our economic affairs.


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