Miliband pledges engagement in North if Labour wins UK vote

British Labour leader pledges to aid transfer of tax-setting powers to Northern Executive

The British Labour party will continue to engage with the issues that challenge Northern Ireland if it wins the general election in May, Ed Miliband has told Northern Ireland business leaders in Belfast.

Mr Miliband also pledged on Wednesday night that he would facilitate the transfer of corporation tax-setting powers from Westminster to the Northern Executive before the British general election.

Mr Miliband is on a two-day visit to the North ahead of the May election. On Wednesday night attended a networking event in the Titanic visitor centre in Belfast hosted by Co-operation Ireland and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce.

It was attended by up to 200 businesspeople and a number of politicians, among them the Tánaiste Joan Burton and Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson.

‘Incredibly inspiring’

Mr Miliband said he found “incredibly inspiring” what has been achieved in Northern Ireland, and paid tribute to politicians and civil society for the “transformation you have brought about”.

He said the Labour Party was “incredibly proud” of its role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and that if it was elected to government in May that high level of “engagement” would continue.

“I am not promising there will be lots of money to spend in Northern Ireland under Labour, because there won’t be, but what I am promising you is a sense of direction about how our whole country needs to change and the challenges that we face,” he said.

Mr Miliband, who was accompanied by the shadow Northern Secretary Ivan Lewis, said the "central challenge" facing Northern Ireland and Britain was inequality, "where society works for some people but not for all".

He said the private sector must be “the motor for change” in Northern Ireland in helping to deliver the “good jobs and decent wages that people want”.

He added: “Part of the best way we can support the process of peace is through economic and social development, that the two things aren’t separate issues, that they actually go hand in hand.

“What I promise if there is a Labour government, and indeed in advance of the general election, is a Labour Party that will work with the business community, that will work with civil society, that will work with the people of Northern Ireland in the challenges that we face.”

Courtesy visit

Mr Miliband is to pay a courtesy visit to Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont this afternoon.

Early on Thursday, he is delivering a speech in Belfast to the Heenan-Anderson commission which was set up by Labour last September to examine the causes of economic deprivation in Northern Ireland.

It is chaired by Prof Deirdre Heenan, University of Ulster pro-vice chancellor, and Colin Anderson, a Belfast-based advertising executive.

Mr Miliband is also visiting an integrated school on Thursday.

At Wednesday night's event Peter Sheridan, chief executive of co-operation Ireland, said the jobs businesspeople created were vitally important in peace-building.

“To have a peaceful society across this island we need a thriving economy,” he said.

Kevin Kingston, president of the chamber, said 2015 would be a "crucial year in terms growth and recovery", which must involve "nurturing social regeneration was well as wealth creation".

He welcomed the willingness of the Labour Party to facilitate the devolution of corporation tax-setting powers to the Northern Executive before the Westminster election.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times