Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein mobile mast tax plan counter-productive - O2

O2
Image caption O2 said Sinn Fein's phone mast tax plans would be counter-productive

A mobile phone company has described Sinn Fein's suggestion to tax operators £2,000 per month for phone masts as "counter-productive".

The plan was part of a package of savings and revenue-generating ideas the party said could save £1.9bn.

However, a spokesperson for O2 said such a move would be unwise.

"It would be counter-productive to attempt to put a levy on an industry which is already investing millions in its infrastructure," they said.

The spokesperson added mobile phone operators were bringing "broadband and mobile to business and personal customers in even the remotest areas of Northern Ireland".

On Thursday, Sinn Fein said the move could raise £160m over four years.

It also said the four Northern Ireland banks could loan £400m for a development bond and said it would give the Housing Executive the power to borrow £250m.

The party suggested politicians take a voluntary 15% wage cut.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said there may be room for some agreement.

"They have obviously put some thought into this document," said the first minister.

"There are aspects which in my view are completely off the wall, but there are other aspects which are in common with things we have been talking about."

Segregation

Alliance welcomed Sinn Fein's proposals, but said they had failed to address the issue of segregation, which if addressed could bring about the greatest savings.

"We welcome the fact that Sinn Fein has published this paper and we are more than happy to share ideas and have discussions around proposals.

"We are however bemused as to why Sinn Fein are leading on small, populist issues rather that examining big ticket, high cost areas," the party's Stephen Farry said.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said her party "welcome Sinn Fein's u-turn in relation to their attitude to the economic downturn and we are glad they have dropped their head-in-the-sands approach of resisting all cuts.

"This was never a strategy to help those most in need, only a strategy to attract votes."

The Traditional Unionist Voice described the Sinn Fein plans as nonsense.

"The suggestion to tax mobile phone operators £2,000 a month for each mast is not just bad news for people who use mobile phones, as it will increase costs, but is a complete non-starter," the party's Keith Harbinson said.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIRTA) said the publication "contained some interesting ideas".

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