Belfast Telegraph

Stormont hiring new staff to deal with EU funding applications following Brexit vote

By John Mulgrew

Stormont is adding a tranche of new posts this week to help deal with the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, the Finance Minister has said.

Mairtin O Muilleoir said new people, including economists, have been brought on board to "push through EU funding".

And he added he had a "raft of anecdotal stories" about the negative impact the vote to leave the EU was having on business.

"Very little of it is positive," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We have a special committee set up in the Executive to respond, and to know what happens.

"Everyone knows this is a blow and a setback to the economy. Everyone knows what the Sinn Fein position is.

"In the meantime, my job is to bring investment in here along with my colleague (Economy Minister) Simon Hamilton.

"My job is to provide the innovative funding for those who want to spend money.

"Yes, it has been a major shock to the system, but the focus has to remain on trying to find a way of building the economy."

Sinn Fein strongly backed the UK remaining in the EU.

Speaking about the new posts, he said: "There have been a lot of people who have left the Civil Service in recent years and this is really the first time I have green-lighted additional staff.

"Staff have started today to work on the EU applications.

"How do we speed them up, how do we make sure this money isn't lost?

"We are going to spend money on bringing in new people."

Mr O Muilleoir said there remained around £300m of European funding still on the cards for the province, and urged anyone with plans to apply for it to do so quickly.

"The deadline is now the Autumn Statement... if you don't get an application in, through the complex process and signed up before then, you have no guarantee of future funding."

He said it should be "no surprise" that Brexit will have a bigger impact in Northern Ireland than in Britain.

"We know it will hit us harder, and we know people took a stand and people are committed to those positions since, so rather than reflect on why people voted, or how the vote went."

Speaking about his time in the finance role, he said he was "living the dream".

"It's the job which is the nexus of government," he said.

"I had no grand plan of any type. I am interested in public service, getting things done. The cards have been dealt and we will see how we get on.

"In every job I have done I do my best."

Asked whether his role as a businessman - he is the former head of newspaper company Belfast Media Group - helps him in his role as Finance Minister, he said: "Being an entrepreneur gives you a different edge, because you have started and created."

And Mr O Muilleoir said, while confident Northern Ireland will get a reduced rate of corporation tax by April 2018, the impact will be diminished if the UK acts on a proposal by former Chancellor George Osborne to lower its rate to 15%.

"I remain committed to the 12.5% rate (for Northern Ireland).

"I still believe it can be done by April 2018... if the British reduce their taxation rate to 15%, it won't make as much of a difference, but it won't cost us as much."

Belfast Telegraph