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PM to probe into tax plan implications for distillery

The Prime Minister has agreed to investigate controversial tax changes that could hit a leading Northern Ireland drinks-maker.

David Cameron was told about the impact of the complex changes to alcohol duty on Derry-based Niche Drinks Ltd during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday.

The company, which recently unveiled plans for a new £10m distillery, is concerned that HMRC could reclassify the way duty is charged on different types of alcoholic drinks — increasing the costs of the whole industry.

The matter was raised in the Commons by Foyle MP Mark Durkan.

He asked whether the Prime Minister was aware of Niche Drinks, which produces cream liqueurs.

Poking fun at recent claims over Mr Cameron’s laid-back approach, he said: “I don’t know if he ever ‘chillaxes’ with these products.”

Mr Durkan highlighted the firm’s planned £10m investment, but said they were worried that HMRC was planning to “reinterpret” how they treat the products because of a European ruling in 2008.

He added: “Will he ensure that a competent Treasury Minister meets myself... to ensure that common sense and decency prevails.”

Mr Cameron, who was speaking the day before his grilling at the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards, replied: “I haven’t tried one of these delicious-sounding beverages, but I think if it’s all right with the Honourable Gentleman I’ll wait until after tomorrow before trying.

“I do understand there is an issue with HMRC and I would be very happy to arrange a meeting between him and a Treasury Minister to ensure that we look carefully at this issue.”

Niche Drinks exports many of its products, including St Brendan’s Irish Cream and supplies drinks sold by leading supermarkets under their own branding.

Ciaran Mulgrew, the company’s managing director, said any reclassification would be a “concern” to him.

Mr Mulgrew said the changes would not make the company pull the plug on its new distillery, which will employ around 75 people.

But he said: “Products which for the past 30 years have been taxed in one way, might be taxed in another way, despite the fact that the product hasn't changed in 30 years. That is a bit disturbing.

“If we end up losing a considerable part of our production it doesn’t help us.”

And after learning that the Prime Minister had not yet sampled his liqueurs, he joked: “We will certainly be sending him some now.”

Belfast Telegraph