New Prime Minister David Cameron today delivered a personal commitment to transfom the Northern Ireland economy and turn the entire province into an “enterprise zone”.
In a special article for the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Cameron also vowed to listen to “different communities” here on an “equal footing”.
This pledge will be viewed as a bid to counter previous claims of a one-sided approach, in light of his party's electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists.
Mr Cameron, who took office just last week, said Northern Ireland will not be targeted for cutbacks but will “have to share in the difficult measures we must take”.
Boosting the economy is a central theme of today's article, with the Prime Minister promising to explore “potential mechanisms” for changing the corporation tax rate.
He also stated: “Peace and prosperity go hand-in-hand. It is Northern Ireland’s businesses — large and small — that will provide the economic foundation for peace. So we are looking at a range of measures to turn the whole of Northern Ireland into an Enterprise Zone.”
The enterprise zone concept was included in the Tories’ joint election manifesto with the UUP. No details have been given on what it might mean in practice.
Economist John Simpson believes a number of measures could be involved in such an initiative.
He said these could include additional capital funds for key projects, exemptions from “red-tape regulations” for businesses, and local concessions on some types of taxation.
“An enterprise region would be an innovative concept. This might be an opportunity for a local bid, designed by local ministers, to be tabled,” Mr Simpson said.
“An effective package will need a skilful analysis and a persuasive presentation.”
In his article, the Prime Minister again underlined his strong commitment to the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
“But I know that Union depends on consent,” Mr Cameron added. “The agreements of the past 12 years — and the political institutions that they established — happened because all the main parties have at some point helped to shape them.
“So we will continue listening to the different communities here, with each on an equal footing. We want everyone to feel they belong here.”