Paterson holds out hopes of lower corporation tax, challenges Executive over double jobbing and local budget

 Secretary of State Owen Paterson has weighed in with a meaty lecture in memory of the late Lord Steinberg of Belfast giving a timescale for various initiatives ( text courtesy, Jeff Dudgeon).

 The paper on “ rebalancing the economy” making the whole province an enterprise zone will come in a few weeks’ time and includes an examination of a differential rate of corporation tax, also noted by Conservative Home .

 This will look at possible ways of turning Northern Ireland into an enterprise zone and potential mechanisms for giving it a separate rate of corporation tax to attract significant new investment.

 Will the terms of a likely bailout for the Irish banks alter the picture? Differential corporation tax is likely to even less popular with the EU, whose permission is needed.

 The new phrase for republican dissidents ” residual terrorist groups” is given an airing, invoking unprecedented security cooperation.

 Here let me pay tribute to the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, shortly to retire. These terrorist groups have no greater foe and the PSNI no greater ally than Fachtna.

 It’s a huge testament to the co-operation that now exists between us that Matt Baggott told me recently that he has a closer relationship with Fachtna than he did with any of his neighbouring forces when he was Chief Constable in Leicestershire.

On dealing with the past, Paterson notes widespread disagreement over how to proceed while claiming to detect a desire to” move forward. He promises a plan some time in the New Year. He knocks down most the Eames/Bradley options but appears to favour this one.

 …some kind of mechanism for information sharing and recovery. Spanish legislation in 2007 included provision for a Historical Memory Documentary Centre in Salamanca with public access to archives and documents. Anything similar in Northern Ireland would clearly need involvement from all those involved in the events of the past forty years. It could not be a one-sided exercise.

 And its value would be highly dependent on the extent to which individuals would be prepared to tell their story and under what circumstances. Such a process would require a government contribution, for example over the release of documents, but it would have to be wholly independent of government.

 It wouldn’t be a shortcut to dealing with the past. But it might help families, and wider society, achieve greater understanding and closure, however difficult that might be.

However this approach seems to have been rejected in advance by blogger Gerry Adams, reiterating  the SF view after facilitating the   meeting between the SoS and Ballymurphy families. 

It is clear that an Independent International Truth Commission is required. Independence is key because truth recovery cannot be dealt with through a British or Unionist prism or, for that matter, through an Irish republican prism.

Clearly an effective truth recovery process is dependent on full and voluntary cooperation by all relevant parties.

Any body charged with this onerous task:
– should have a remit to inquire into the extent and patterns of past violations as well as their causes and consequences;
– should examine and report on institutional and collective responsibility, and
– must be independent of the state, combatant groups, political parties, and economic interests.

Interestingly this formula allows for IRA participation on a voluntary basis? Would Gerry be prepared to be a persuader in exchange for ” independence”?

 Remarkably after the Ucunf adventure, Paterson retains some hankering after a relationship between the Conservatives and unionism.

 The difference between us and the previous administration is that, in David Cameron’s words, we will never be neutral in expressing our support for the Union.

 I’m aware of the difference in scale but his euphemisms over the Ucunf debacle  reminds me of the Japanese Emperor announcing unconditional surrender that after the atom bombs had been dropped, that the war had been going ” not necessarily to our advantage”

 But despite the General Election not going quite as well as we would have hoped in Northern Ireland, David Cameron and I remain committed to the principles on which we fought it

On how he would develop those principles, he gave no clues. Then he became more politically challenging..

 We also want to tidy up some of the anomalies that are unique to Northern Ireland.

“Tidying up” may bring the government into conflict with the DUP over the double jobbing Bill.

To do this I’m increasingly attracted to the idea of a ‘normalisation’ Bill during the course of this Parliament. This could deal with issues such as political donations, elements of electoral law and, yes, if it has not been resolved by consensus, ending once and for all double jobbing at Stormont and Westminster.

 With concern running over the delay in agreeing a budget, Paterson was at pains to insist the NI had got a better deal on some aspects of the spending review that they would have had under Labour. He told them more or less, to get on with it.

 Just before the spending review Northern Ireland Ministers in the Executive were being briefed that they would be facing reductions of 18 per cent on current spending and 48 per cent on capital spending.

In fact, the Executive is being asked to make savings on current spending of 6.9 per cent over the next four years against an average for most UK departments of 19 per cent and the NIO 25 per cent.

 And while reductions in the capital budget are larger at 37 per cent – though not as large as the 50 per cent planned by Labour – we are confident that we are on course to deliver the £18 billion package for capital investment promised by the then Chancellor after the St Andrews Agreement.

I believe that the economies we are asking the Executive to make – £1.72 in every £100 of current expenditure – are achievable.

 A recent paper by the CBI in Northern Ireland showed how they could save over £1 billion by running services more efficiently. And a report by Deloitte in 2007 highlighted the £1.5 billion that could be saved by ending the costs of division and segregation by building a truly shared future.

 All in all, quite an interventionist performance.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London