Robinson galvanises DUP for Westminster election

First Minister hopes David Cameron will ‘soon allow’ Executive set corporation tax rate

The North's First Minister Peter Robinson has expressed the hope that Northern Ireland soon will be able to set its own corporation tax rate, while also attempting to galvanise his party for next May's British general election.

In his conference speech, Mr Robinson said in six months time the DUP could be “critical” in the formation of the next British government.

"The stakes couldn't be higher, the opportunities couldn't be greater. And as we go out from this conference let's focus on the pivotal role that we can play," the DUP leader told delegates at his party's annual conference in the La Mon Hotel in east Belfast.

Mr Robinson said the initial goal was to hold on to the party's eight seats and then to regain the East Belfast seat he lost to Naomi Long of Alliance in 2014.


He said in East Belfast there would be a "simple choice" between Ms Long and the DUP candidate and former Belfast lord mayor, Gavin Robinson, "standing for unionism".

He referred to the decision to limit the days the union flag now flies over Belfast City Hall and said: “There may be other unionists in the field, but they will only serve to divide the pro-union opposition to the flag-lowering, parade-stopping, gay marriage-supporting, pro water-charging, holier-than-thou Alliance Party.”

Mr Robinson urged DUP activists to fight for every vote in the election, reminding them of how four years Sinn Féin held onto its seat in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

"Don't forget in 2010 Michelle Gildernew was elected to Westminster by just four votes. So when the canvass comes and you are tired and feel like packing up for the night, just knock one more door, or do one more street, it could be the difference between victory and defeat and between success and failure," he said.

Balance of power "It could be the difference between the DUP holding the balance of power at Westminster and narrowly missing out," he said.

“I’m not opposed to entering pacts with other unionists to maximise unionist representation at Westminster,” he added.

The British prime minister David Cameron is expected to soon pronounce on whether he will devolve to the Northern Executive the power to sets its own corporation tax rate.

Currently the rate is 21 per cent in Northern Ireland compared to 12.5 per cent in the Republic.

Mr Robinson said the only realistic way to grow the private sector in the North was through reducing corporation tax.

“In a few weeks’ time I hope the government will finally announce that we will be given the power to set our own rate of corporation tax. This would revolutionise our economy, create over 50,000 jobs and build prosperity for years to come,” he said.

Mr Robinson referred to the Scottish independence referendum and said that “in recent years we have taken a great stride not only to secure Northern Ireland’s place within the Union, but also to create the sort of society in which support for our constitutional position has grown”.

“Just a few years ago Sinn Féin’s president boasted there would be a united Ireland by 2016, but instead support for the union has never been stronger. Gerry, your day won’t come.”

Equally Mr Robinson said that unionists must understand that for politics to work required cooperation with Sinn Féin.

“Those within unionism, who oppose the path upon which we have embarked, have nothing to offer. They complain that more delivery is required from Stormont and at the very same time argue that we shouldn’t co-operate with Sinn Féin.

“They seem incapable of recognising that the mathematics - never mind the structures at Stormont – means that there is no delivery unless such co-operation takes place,” he said.

'Ensuring the peace' Mr Robinson said that sometimes politics can seem distant and remote, but that was not the case in Northern Ireland.

“Making politics work means ensuring the peace we have is sustained. It means tapping into the potential for prosperity that has been building up for years,” he said.

“It means trying to achieve reconciliation between our communities. It means creating a shared society where the culture of every tradition is treated with respect and tolerance.”

Mr Robinson said the DUP was the only party setting the political agenda in Northern Ireland.

“Sinn Féin’s focus is on the South. The SDLP and UUP are focused on survival. That’s why we must set the pace,” he said.

Mr Robinson again deplored the North’s Equality Commission’s decision to take a legal case against Ashers Bakery over its refusal to bake a cake bearing a slogan in support of gay marriage.

He asked delegates to support a collection to help defray some of Ashers’s legal costs in the case.

He said, “I believe in freedom of conscience. There will often be competing rights and freedoms but, nobody should be compelled or coerced into supporting, sanctioning or promoting views or opinions which conflict with their strongly held religious convictions.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times