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DUP rules out big student fee hikes

Student fee hikes of several thousand pounds in Northern Ireland have been rejected by the DUP.

Employment Minister Danny Kennedy is consulting on higher tuition costs but has indicated that he would not support any introduction of upfront fees or at levels of up to £9,000 introduced in England.

DUP leader Peter Robinson launched his party's manifesto in Belfast today and said he would only consider cost annual increases in line with inflation.

"The DUP does not need to consult on the issue of student fee hikes of several thousand pounds. The DUP is categorically ruling them out," he told candidates.

He also reiterated the DUP's pledge not to introduce water charges.

He said they were a low tax party which would cut excess costs before asking people to pay more.

Mr Robinson said: "If ministers would get down to the job of looking at where there are inefficiencies within their own departments there would be plenty of money."

Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has criticised plans to make massive cuts in his budget agreed by Sinn Fein and the DUP earlier this year and warned the health service will run out of money.

Mr Robinson said: "We guarantee year-on-year real terms increases in health spending and will drive down our excessive departmental and central administration costs per capita to the same levels as the rest of the UK."

He said the party wanted to expand access to radiotherapy services after Mr McGimpsey decided there was not enough money to run a new centre at Altnagelvin Hospital in the North West.

On justice Mr Robinson said the future role of the Policing Board should be reviewed after the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly. The Justice Committee at Stormont considers policy and the board scrutinises operational matters and the First Minister said there was concern that there would be an overlap of responsibilities.

Mr Robinson said the party delivered well over 90% of its commitments in the 2007 election manifesto.

"Under the current system of government clearly we will require the support of other parties for some of the objectives we are outlining," he added.

Pledges today included:

  • Bringing forward legislation for tougher sentences and making prison the norm for those who attack the elderly and vulnerable;
  • Drawing up a Victims' Charter and continuing record investment for sufferers from terrorism;
  • Piloting automatic benefit payments in areas like Pension Credit where over a third of those entitled do not claim it. This could bring an extra £1 million a week into the Northern Ireland economy;
  • Holding an inquiry into unacceptably high insurance costs, taking measures to keep household bills to a minimum and promoting energy efficiency measures in homes;
  • Creating a voluntary coalition Executive with weighted majority voting. Less Government Departments and a maximum of 80 MLAs;
  • Introducing Social Impact Bonds which could open up greater opportunities for charities and voluntary sector organisations;
  • Introducing business rate relief of 50% for bills up to £5,000.
  • Mr Robinson added: "This year's manifesto unashamedly prioritises our local economy and jobs. We want to grow our indigenous companies and have them exporting more, continue expanding research and development and attract further foreign investment."

The DUP wants to create 20,000 jobs over the next four years and increase exports by 50% over the next decade. That includes taking the power to reduce corporation tax down as far as 10%.

The party leader added: "We want to be the most attractive base in Europe for business.

"We want to reverse the brain drain to ensure we retain the best-educated, most highly skilled workforce."

He called for a single system of education and establishment of a commission to advise on sharing services.

"We waste far too many resources in Northern Ireland as a consequence of separation and duplication," he added.

The Assembly elections are on May 5.

Belfast Telegraph