The British chancellor’s decision to link the devolution of corporation tax-setting powers to a successful outcome of the current Northern political talks has “raised the stakes” in the negotiations., the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers has said.
Ms Villiers noted how George Osborne’s offer was conditional on progress being achieved in the talks including the Northern Executive demonstrating it could agree a credible course to get its finances on a “sustainable footing”.
“(The) autumn statement has raised the stakes in the cross-party talks and made it even more vital that the parties do all they can to reach an agreement in the short time we now have. It is vital not to let this opportunity slip away,” she said.
The DUP First Minister Peter Robinson blamed the North’s four other main parties for Mr Osborne’s decision to put conditions on his offer. Mr Robinson said it was “not unreasonable” that Mr Osborne should make the connection with the current talks by stating that Northern politicians had to prove they were “able to manage the financial implications” of setting their own level of corporation tax.
“The DUP have taken all the necessary hard decisions relating to the economy, welfare reform and the budget. The failure of other parties has caused this delay,” he said.
“If Sinn Féin and the SDLP had been prepared to agree the DUP enhanced welfare reform proposal and if the SDLP, UUP and Alliance had been sufficiently mature to take the difficult decision to support the draft budget we would have been moving to legislate for corporation tax powers to be devolved on Monday,” he added.
“There are only a few weeks left for these parties to step up to the plate. If this opportunity is lost they will have to explain why they failed to behave in the best interests of our people and why they have rejected the opportunity to create up to an additional 50,000 jobs here,” he said.
The Sinn Féin finance spokesman, Daithí McKay described Mr Osborne’s comments as “breathtaking arrogance from a British minister who has been responsible for austerity and poverty on a Dickensian scale”.
“This issue cannot be seen in isolation from the very real financial pressures we as an Executive are currently facing – pressures largely created by the year-on-year cuts to the Executive’s budget implemented by George Osborne, ” he added.
“Tax varying powers should now be transferred without conditions so that we, not George Osborne, can then decide on how we will use this power,” said Mr McKay.
Patsy McGlone, the SDLP chairman of the Assembly’s enterprise committee said “while the British government may try to use this as a bargaining chip in the talks it is important that all parties refuse to be strong-armed by the Tories into making concessions that are not in the best interests of people here”.
“The talks outcome should be comprehensive, decisive but most of all should meet the needs of the people we represent, not the desires of an austere chancellor in London,” he added.
UUP economy spokesman Danny Kinahan welcomed Mr Osborne’s conditional offer on corporation tax notwithstanding that it was “tied to a successful outcome of the current talks process”.
“The Ulster Unionist Party remains fully engaged in that process, and focused on the need for the Northern Ireland Executive to balance its books. We cannot go on saddling future generations with massive debt because we are living so far beyond our means,” he added.
The Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long supported the “potential devolution of corporation tax” but warned “any such powers must be used responsibly” by the Northern Executive.
“This news increases the need for a comprehensive agreement dealing with all the topics on the table, not a piecemeal approach,” she said.
Kevin Kingston, president of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said politicians “must grasp” this opportunity. “The price of doing nothing, of focusing solely on the past and ignoring the opportunity of the future is - for the business community - unthinkable,” he said.
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said that if Mr Osborne “means what he says corporation tax devolution should be off the table for the foreseeable future as Stormont has patently failed to manage its financial affairs”.
Chartered Accountants Ireland in a statement said that corporation tax powers offered the prospect of a “real boost” to the Northern Ireland economy.
Reproduced courtesy of The Irish Times / Author: Gerry Moriarty