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A vote to remain in EU would be best for Northern Ireland economy, say 72% of accountants in new survey

By Rachel Martin

Almost three-quarters of accountants here say Northern Ireland is better off in the EU, according to a survey.

Just 12% of the 400 accountants surveyed by their industry body felt an "out vote" would be better for the region.

The survey carried out by Chartered Accountants Ulster Society found 72% of accountants said it would be better for the Northern Ireland economy if the UK stayed in the EU. A further 16% said they were not sure.

More than half said the EU referendum was the biggest issue negatively affecting the economy in Northern Ireland.

Dawn Johnston, chair of Chartered Accountants Ulster Society, said: "Our 2014 survey showed an upturn in optimism and confidence in business conditions, but we have not seen significant progress in the last two years.

"On the issue of Brexit, these results show that a majority of our members believe it is better for the UK to remain in the EU, but it also shows that 16% have yet to make their mind up on the issue. Only 5% feel fully informed of the implications of a potential Brexit.

"The survey shows some frustration with our local politicians and their ability to deliver. A majority of those surveyed felt that further devolution of fiscal powers could be helpful in facing economic challenges, but nearly two-thirds of those surveyed were not confident of the Assembly's capability to exercise those powers.

"Our members see the availability of skilled labour and the reduced rate of corporation tax as positives for our economy. Our members have stressed the need for a properly worked out plan involving the private sector to prepare for the forthcoming reduction in corporation tax.

"It is clear that we need to invest in education, skills and infrastructure, as well as provide a stable political environment if we are to really take advantage of the new rate in 2018."

Cuts in government spending, exchange rate volatility and the global economic outlook were also cited as issues expected to hold back the economy here.

Those who favoured remaining in the EU said the potential negative impact of Brexit on foreign direct investment, on trade relationships and on the Northern Ireland economy were key factors in their opinion.

However, the accountants supporting a vote to leave mentioned self-determination, the EU debt burden, global trade opportunities and immigration issues.

Economist Maureen O'Reilly, who analysed the survey, said the report suggested Northern Ireland's economic recovery has lost some momentum.

The percentage of accountants who said that Northern Ireland is 'some way towards recovery' dropped by 4%, down from 72% in last year's survey.

Around a fifth said the region's economy is 'a long way off recovery' and just 8% felt that Northern Ireland is 'well on the way to recovery'. According to the survey, accountants here saw falling oil prices and the introduction of a reduced corporation tax rate as the most positive effect on the economy. Respondents also felt very strongly about the importance of a highly-skilled workforce.

Belfast Telegraph