Belfast Telegraph

Deal on business tax vital, urges Fox chief

By Robin Morton

The missing element in the Northern Ireland economy is a deal on corporation tax, a leading American businessman has told a luncheon in Belfast.

Dennis Swanson, president of American broadcasting company Fox Television, was addressing the Ireland-US Council corporate lunch yesterday.

He told guests at the function, which took place at the offices of Belfast Harbour Commissioners, that Northern Ireland now ticked most of the boxes as regards investment potential.

He said the province boasted an outstanding education system, a good infrastructure and easy access to lucrative markets.

The private sector was now developing and the Executive was determined to reduce the proportion of public expenditure.

Mr Swanson said that the securing of political stability had been a great breakthrough, but "missing from the party" was a tax deal.

The businessman, who is a long-standing vice-president of the Ireland-US Council, said corporation tax had been "by far the most significant factor" in the regeneration of the economy of the Republic.

"Capital goes where capital is welcome and over the past five decades the Republic has been welcoming capital from overseas," he said.

"As a result, one in three industrial workers in the Republic now takes home a pay cheque from an American company."

Mr Swanson noted that the Ireland-US Council had been among those lobbying the Varney Review to harmonise the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland with that of the Republic.

Len O'Hagan, the chairman of Belfast Harbour Commissioners, welcomed Mr Swanson's endorsement of the corporation tax campaign.

He said Northern Ireland had a story to tell, because it was a region on the way up.

"For too long, Northern Ireland had little positive news to offer, there was little to reward our international friends who gave of their time and their skills," added Mr O'Hagan.

"That has changed, and changed utterly. Northern Ireland is a society which is leaving its dark past behind."

Mark Durkan, the SDLP leader and chairman of the Assembly's enterprise committee, who also addressed the function, said the politicians at Stormont were moving from making demands to making decisions.

He paid tribute to the support given by the Ireland-US Council in boosting investment and encouraging political stability.

Mr Durkan, a Finance Minister in the previous Assembly, said the Executive had put the economy centre-stage.

He said the enterprise committee had made a submission to the Varney Review, calling for a reduction in corporation tax.

"We are in a situation now that if we are going to make a successful case for corporation tax, Team Northern Ireland has to pull together," added Mr Durkan.

"The Ministers are in the front line but we in the enterprise committee are right behind them.

"There is too much riding on this for there to be anything but a united front."

Bruce Robinson, the permanent secretary at the Department of Enterprise, highlighted the current growth of the economy but warned that there was no room for complacency.

The Varney Report, which will focus on business tax policy in Northern Ireland, is due out later this month.

Belfast Telegraph