Belfast Telegraph

'Stormont needs control over taxation if we are to have real politics in Northern Ireland'

By John McCallister

Devo-plus. I admit it's not a catchy term, but following the successful NI21 conference last weekend, it has the potential to become the debate in Northern Ireland politics.

When Basil McCrea and I created NI21, we wanted to see a party which would reshape and renew politics in Northern Ireland.

The devo-plus debate lies at the heart of this vision. If we are to have real politics in Northern Ireland, if the Assembly is to really embrace responsibility for the future direction of Northern Ireland, we need control over taxation: devo-plus.

It's the logical conclusion of devolution. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies because we all recognise that it is better that key decisions are taken in these regions. If this is true about health and education policy, it is even more true of taxation.

The type of taxation needed for economic growth in the South-East of England is quite different to that needed in Northern Ireland. Our economic challenges and the structure of our economy are radically different. Devolving power over taxes to Northern Ireland and the other regions makes sense, giving us the freedom to structure taxation in a way that promotes growth.

It also would be a wake-up call to those of us who are politicians. There would be no more passing the blame to Westminster. The buck would stop at Stormont. The leading parties would have to form a meaningful Government and negotiate a robust Programme for Government. Voters would know who to support - and who to blame.

This is the debate happening now in Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom is changing, evolving, responding to new circumstances. The devo-plus debate, in other words, is a debate Northern Ireland needs if we are not to be left behind.

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