Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness calls for border poll

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called for a border poll on Irish unity.

He said things would never be the same again for Scotland or elsewhere following the referendum.

The party wants to remove Northern Ireland's border with the Irish Republic.

The senior republican added: "It showed that it is possible to discuss important constitutional issues in a spirit of respect for all sides. I believe we could do that without opening up divisions which would be detrimental to the institutions."

Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson has rejected the suggestion and said a poll is not necessary.

He added: "More and more people in Northern Ireland want to maintain the status quo."

The two men head a fragile powersharing administration in Belfast.

Nationalists in Ireland maintained a low profile during the Scottish independence campaign. However slogans went up in west Belfast and Derry, Northern Ireland's second largest city, supporting a yes vote in recent days.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers can call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought about peace. It also specifies that the cabinet minister shall order a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland.

The proportion of Protestants has fallen to 48% from 53% 10 years ago, census data showed, while the proportion of Catholics increased to 45% from 44%.

Demographers have predicted that Catholics, who tend to be younger and have higher birth rates, could become a majority of voters within a generation. However not all Catholics want a united Ireland and separation from Britain.

Sinn Fein and the DUP, powersharing partners at Stormont, have been at loggerheads over issues like welfare reform, a dispute potentially having far-reaching ramifications in reduced public funds for spending on policing, health and other government priorities.

Mr Robinson said ministers in Northern Ireland need to show competence in dealing with existing powers as Westminster considers devolving more.

Sinn Fein has claimed transfer of full fiscal powers from London is the next logical step.

Mr Robinson said: "The Prime Minister and the other party leaders have indicated that they want to see an element of fairness in how funding is distributed across the United Kingdom and that the Barnett formula (for deciding funding) would be retained.

"Both of those pledges may not always represent the same thing and whilst there will have to be an investigation as to how funding is developed I would be one of those unwilling to stray too far into the renegotiation of the Barnett formula."

He said there was no point in giving the ministerial Executive at Stormont more powers over finances if ministers were not capable of taking decisions.

The administration at Stormont has been beset by disagreements over welfare and peace process issues like the flying of contentious flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of past violence.

Advocates of Northern Ireland setting its own corporation tax levels on business profits believe it could reduce reliance on public spending and raise wages in the private sector by attracting innovative companies.

However if the tax take falls that may lead to a corresponding drop in the block grant paid from London to run public services in Northern Ireland. This is because EU rules say a central government like Westminster cannot subsidise tax reductions made by a regional Assembly like Stormont.

Stormont finance minister Simon Hamilton has estimated the cost of reducing the rate to the level of the Republic of Ireland, a major competitor for investment, could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Republic's corporate rate of 12.5%, compared to 20% in Northern Ireland, has been crucial to attracting American corporations seeking overseas bases. Google, Facebook and Apple have established south of the border.

Making cuts to compensate for a reduced block grant could put further strains on Stormont. The ministerial Executive has already failed to reach agreement on meeting the cost of welfare reform and faces other reductions in its budget.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "We now await the Prime Minister's decision on the devolution of corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland. We hope that this can now reach a quick conclusion, with the powers devolved, shortly."

Ms Villiers said: "Detailed technical work has been under way for some months on how a devolved corporation tax regime might operate in Northern Ireland.

"This has progressed well. The UK Government will be looking carefully at whether devolution can go ahead and we are committed to announcing a decision on this by the Autumn Statement."

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