North's Secretary Offers Irish Bail-out

At the same time as pressing the Stormont Executive to quickly agree their own local budget, the North's Secretary of State, Owen Paterson has just reiterated the UK Government's willingness to assist the Irish Government if asked.

"Every business man and woman in Northern Ireland knows how important it is to have a strong and stable Irish economy and a sound banking sector.

"The UK as a whole exports more to Ireland than to China, India, Brazil and Russia combined.

"As the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have emphasised, it would be wrong to speculate about the financial health of another country in the European Union.

"But it is massively in the UK's interest to help Ireland through any difficulties it may face and I reiterate that, if asked, we will do all that we can," he said.

He was speaking at the weekend as he also told the North's politicians that it is time a budget based on the UK spending review settlement was quickly agreed by the Stormont Executive.

However, the signs are good, as the high level call came just days before the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he has "considerable confidence" that the Stormont parties will be able to agree a budget.

Appearing on the recent BBC's Politics Show, Mr McGuinness argued, "people should not be concerned about a lapse of a few days, or even a week or two".

"The objective is to put a budget in place and to be quite honest, I have considerable confidence, given the discussions I've been involved in, that we will be able to do that," he said.

However, time is running out, according to the NIO boss who has highlighted the economy at Chamber of Commerce meetings in Portrush, Newry and Londonderry and also gave the keynote address at the Enterprise NI Tenth Anniversary Conference at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast.

Mr Paterson said: "There is a very clear message coming from the private sector in Northern Ireland. It is that we all need to work together to rebalance the economy starting from now.

"The Government will play its part with the Treasury paper on the economy due in the coming weeks.

"It will look at possible ways of turning Northern Ireland into an enterprise zone and potential mechanisms for giving the Executive the power to vary corporation tax.

"The great strength of devolution is that local decisions are taken by locally accountable ministers. So I hope that a budget based on the spending review settlement can be made quickly as has already been done in Scotland and Wales," he said.


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