Last Monday Paul Butler MLA moved a motion at the Assembly calling for the Executive to explore “through the North/South Ministerial Council, ways to develop policies in conjunction with the Irish Government which benefit both economies on the island, with particular consideration being given to the potential benefits of the harmonisation of VAT rates, taxation systems and corporation tax; and further calls on the Executive to work with the Irish Government to develop an all-island economic recovery and development plan, aligned with an investment strategy, to help address the adverse impacts of the present economic climate.”
It was a good motion, well thought out and full of common sense proposals to help end unnecessary duplication of services and administration and create more efficient economies north and south.
The small number of unionist MLAs who were in the chamber railed against Paul’s motion. I listened intently to what they said and I would strongly suggest that readers log on to the Hansard site and read the minutes.
Ultimately there was no substance to their remarks. Their opposition was entirely bogus and rhetorical. There was no significant criticism of the logic of the motion.
Gregory Campbell’s contribution is a case in point.
His only rationale for opposing the motion and the amendment, which was put by the SDLP, was that they are political! That is why we are in the Assembly: to talk politics. He offered no notion of how the DUP would deal with unemployment, high levels of deprivation, including poor health and inadequate housing, or the unacceptably low quality of life and living standards for those on the lowest rung of the social ladder.
Let us face facts: before there was a global crisis, before the Tories and the Lib Dems got into power and before we had 30 or 40 years of British direct rule, the economy in the north did not work. It was always a basket case.
Let us deal with the logic. We are on the same small land mass. We live on an island. This motion is not about a united Ireland. Obviously, this blog is for a united Ireland. That is the best solution, and, in time, perhaps the Member for East Derry and others will come round to the logic of that position.
But Monday’s debate was not about that, it was about increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of our economic system and improving the quality of life of citizens in both parts of the island.
Sinn Féin is arguing for harmonisation. We are arguing for common-sense relationships which the three unionist parties that spoke against the motion in the Assembly debate, signed up to in the Good Friday Agreement, the St Andrews Agreement and the Hillsborough agreement.
Two years ago, the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Nigel Dodds, acknowledged that the Executive has only a limited set of levers under its control to manage the economy. For me, the rationale is that we should have more control. We should have more sets of levers.
There needs to be a two-pronged approach, with new ideas, solutions and strategies.
That approach involves dealing with the British Government to get as much control over as many levers as possible to manage the economy.
It means working with the Irish Government through the Executive and the North/South Ministerial Council.
It is about harmonising VAT rates, looking at taxation systems, agreeing a single rate of corporation tax and eliminating all barriers to workers’ mobility throughout the island. It is about not having two competing agencies, Invest NI and the IDA, arguing and competing with each other.
It also means that the same assistance that is given to foreign investors should be available to local businesses.
On Thursday I and other party leaders met with the new British Prime Minister David Cameron. Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson met him separately. All these issues and others were put on the Downing Street agenda by us.
I want Mr. Cameron to be the last British PM with jurisdiction in Ireland. But in the meantime all the parties here have to build the economy, create jobs and make sure citizens have their economic and social entitlements.
Say No is no longer an option for unionism.