Ed Miliband says private sector can drive Northern Ireland prosperity
Economic and social development in Northern Ireland must go hand in hand with efforts to secure the peace process, Ed Miliband has told an audience of business leaders in Belfast.
The Labour leader also promised that if elected his party would not oppose the current moves to devolve corporation tax powers to the region.
Setting out what we could expect from a government under his stewardship, the Labour leader pledged an administration that was "engaged" with the challenges facing the post-conflict society.
Mr Miliband was guest speaker at an event at the Titanic Belfast visitor centre at the start of a 24-hour visit to the city attended by business leaders and reconciliation organisations.
He said Labour was committed to tackling "challenges of inequality" across the UK but acknowledged there were specific issues facing Northern Ireland as it emerged from the Troubles.
He said the private sector could be the "motor for change" in delivering economic prosperity, better jobs and higher wages to the region.
Labour has recently set up a commission to examine social problems facing communities in Northern Ireland.
Mr Miliband said the progress that had been made from the darks days of the Troubles had inspired him, but there was still some way to go.
He added: "At times it must feel that - while Northern Ireland has moved on from the past, and what I knew about Northern Ireland when I was growing up in the 1980s - the process is still very difficult and there are big, big challenges.
"Part of the best way we can support the process of peace is through economic and social development, that the two things aren't separate issues - that they actually go hand in hand.
"And what I promise if there is a Labour government, and indeed in advance of the general election, is a Labour Party that will work with the business community, that will work with civil society, that will work with the people of Northern Ireland on those challenges you face."
He reiterated his party's position that it would not oppose, and indeed would facilitate, the present Government's Bill to devolve corporation tax powers to Stormont before the election.
The legislative step formed part of the Stormont House Agreement struck before Christmas between the Government and the Executive's five parties.
Police chiefs, business and community leaders and political figures, including Irish Labour Party leader Joan Burton, attended last night's event organised by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Co-operation Ireland.
The Labour leader will fulfil a number of engagements today, including meeting First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. He is also due to visit schoolchildren.