NI21 leader Basil McCrea: Give Stormont tax powers

Basil McCrea Basil McCrea said greater fiscal powers for Stormont would be 'normal politics'

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The NI21 leader Basil McCrea has called for greater fiscal powers for the Stormont Executive.

He wants Westminster to allow local politicians the authority to raise or reduce the levels of income tax and stamp duty.

Mr McCrea made the call at his party's first annual conference in Belfast.

The Lagan Valley MLA said: "The prospect of devolving income tax will concentrate the minds of the politicians and the electorate alike."

He added: "The use of appropriate tax regimes is a government's primary means of providing strategic direction. We desperately need access to those means.

"So I pledge today that NI21 will pursue the devolution of more powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly including, but not restricted to, income tax and stamp duty.

"It will provide a transparent link between the pound in your pocket and political decisions. This is normal politics."

Mr McCrea added: "Of course the big question that arises - if you want to devolve income tax, do you want to put it up or put it down?

Create opposition

"Initially we do not see wholesale change to the level of income tax, but what we are interested in is the potential to create a series of carefully targeted measures to support specific objectives."

Mr McCrea set up NI21 in June after he and John McCallister left the Ulster Unionist Party earlier this year.

The new party wants legislation to create an opposition at Stormont.

Deputy leader Mr McCallister began his speech in Irish and welcomed guests.

He also told them why he had resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party.

"I left the UUP because I became convinced that it was not - and could not be - the means of changing politics in Northern Ireland," he said.

The South Down MLA used his address to call for the office of the first and deputy first minister to be renamed the Office of Joint First Minister.

Secret ballot

He said: "We all know that Peter (Robinson) and Martin (McGuinness) are joint first ministers.

"We all know that one cannot order coffee without asking for the other's permission.

"And so, NI21 wants to call time on the sectarian facade. It is time to sweep away the fiction and rename the office as that of the joint first ministers."

N121 have also proposed that the Speaker of the Assembly should be elected by secret ballot.

The conference was attended by around 300 people, including the Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes, who is minister of state at the Irish Department of Finance.

He used his conference speech to talk about the relations between Dublin, Belfast and London.

"There has been too much navel-gazing by politicians in Dublin and Belfast. The peace process and North-South relations are very important but they are not the only game in town," he said.

He also raised the issue of the UK's relationship with the rest of the European Union, and told the audience that more people in Northern Ireland should speak up about the benefits of EU membership.

He said: "It is in Ireland's national interest that Britain should remain a full member of the European Union.

"Northern Ireland's voice has been noticeably absent in the British debate on EU membership. I think it is time for that voice to be heard."

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