Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson says corporation tax could be 12.5% by 2017

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Media captionPeter Robinson addressed a business conference on the Falls Road in west Belfast - a visit that Sinn Féin described as a "historic first"

The first minister has said Northern Ireland's rate of corporation tax could fall to 12.5% by April 2017.

Peter Robinson was guest speaker at a business breakfast in the west of the city, in a visit that Sinn Féin has described as a "historic first".

The DUP leader and East Belfast MLA said he hoped such visits by unionists would be the "new norm" in a "new era".

Mr Robinson said he was just as enthusiastic about bringing jobs to West Belfast as his own constituency.

'St Patrick's Day'

Corporation tax is the tax that companies pay on their profits. At the moment, it is levied at a rate of 21% in the UK, although that will be coming down to 20% in April.

The rate is currently set by Westminster for the UK as a whole, but legislation to devolve that power to Stormont is currently working its way through parliament.

Mr Robinson said: "By coincidence, I am sure, it is likely to complete its stages by March 17, St Patrick's Day.

"We will take the decision (on the rate) shortly after that."

Supporters within Northern Ireland's business community lobbied fiercely for the devolution of corporation tax. Many would like to see the rate reduced so that it is equal to or lower than the Republic of Ireland's rate of 12.5%.

All five executive parties want the power devolved to Northern Ireland, but there are still deliberations over the cost to the block grant from Westminster and the implications for public spending.

'Nothing odd'

Although Mr Robinson's Democratic Unionist Party favours a rate of 10%, it is a Northern Ireland Executive decision that would also need support from Sinn Féin.

Speaking at Friday's west Belfast business event, Mr Robinson said the "working assumption" is that Northern Ireland will adopt a 12.5% rate, introduced at the "earliest possible date of April 2017".

During his visit, Mr Robinson was accompanied by the trade minister and DUP colleague, Arlene Foster.

He told the audience that there should be "nothing odd about two ministers coming along" to a west Belfast event.

"But we all know because of our history there is something different about it. Let us hope this is the new norm."

Mr Robinson added that Northern Ireland was in a "new era".

'Advance the peace'

He said a stable political environment would allow politicians and business leaders to build Northern Ireland's economy.

The event at the Kennedy Centre on the Falls Road was organised by businessman Gerry Carlisle.

"I'm a big believer in the fact that we need to create as many jobs as possible and we need to continually advance the economy in this place," Mr Carlisle said.

"If we can advance the economy and create jobs, then we can also advance the peace and make sure that the standards of people's lives are better than what they have been in the past and what they currently are."

Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said: "This is the first minister and the minister for enterprise and investment coming into the heart of west Belfast.

"I have no doubt that people will be asking them for further assistance and, obviously, hoping that government steps up to the mark even further in the future."

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