Northern Ireland

Theresa Villiers: No talks deal 'will delay corporation tax decision'

Theresa Villiers
Image caption Theresa Villiers told the Sunday Politics programme it would be very difficult to devolve corporation tax before the General Election without a deal this week

Northern Ireland's secretary of state has said a decision on tax devolution is likely to be delayed unless there is deal this week in cross-party talks.

The parties are holding talks on flags, parades, the past and welfare reform.

The British and Irish prime ministers left talks in Belfast on Friday after the parties failed to reach agreement.

Theresa Villiers has now said it would be very difficult to devolve corporation tax before the General Election without a deal this week.

'Not impossible'

Speaking on BBC Northern Ireland's Sunday Politics programme, she said that if the legislation on corporation tax powers was not brought forward this week, it would be hard to get it through parliament before the election in May.

"What happens at the end of a parliament is, essentially, there is a wash-up stage where government and opposition discuss what can be speeded through so that it's done before dissolution takes place," Ms Villiers said.

"So it's not completely impossible that corporation tax could still be achieved in this parliament, with a later introduction after this week, but it becomes increasingly difficult."

'Absolutely critical'

Northern Ireland's Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said that this week's political talks were "crucial".

"Getting something agreed before the Christmas break is absolutely critical," he told BBC Radio Ulster's The Sunday News programme.

The Democratic Unionist Party MLA added that this week's discussions needed to focus on welfare reform.

Education Minister John O'Dowd, from Sinn Fêin, said the prime minister needed to return to negotiations this week "with a sensible offer" in terms of finance.

"Money makes the world go round and sometimes it is a dirty word, but for us as elected representatives and executive ministers to deliver public services, stabilise our society and deal with the past, present and future, we need money to make that happen," he said.

'Deadline'

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said the opportunity for Stormont to get corporation tax powers was slipping away.

"Corporation tax will fall I think if we don't agree it probably within 72 hours," he said.

SDLP assembly member Alex Attwood said the deadline should be the "end of the year" with regard to securing political agreement.

"Just as it was with the Haass talks, if it takes to the end of the year so be it," he said.

However, Alliance leader David Ford said setting the end of this week as the "appropriate timescale" for a deal was "entirely realistic".

Earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne said a final decision on devolving corporation tax powers would depend on the outcome of Northern Ireland talks.

He said that if the Northern Ireland Executive could show it was "able to manage the financial implications" then the government would introduce legislation in this parliament.

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