Invest NI dismisses O’Dowd corporation tax claim

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Northern Ireland’s economic development agency has dismissed a senior Sinn Fein figure’s claim that it has said that it would prefer corporation tax to be cut in 2021 rather than next year, as previously agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

On Monday John O’Dowd was interviewed by Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio Ulster and came under pressure to explain Sinn Fein’s stance on slashing corporate taxation.

As the News Letter highlighted last week, Sinn Fein’s manifesto for this election makes no mention whatsoever of corporation tax – unlike the last Sinn Fein manifesto for a Westminster election which two years ago which said that “full control” over corporation tax must be devolved to Stormont (the first step towards cutting it).

On Monday, Mr O’Dowd said that Sinn Fein still supported corporate tax cuts – but only if they were “affordable”. He cited Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US President as potential factors which could derail the plan.

As he was repeatedly pressed to be clear on whether Sinn Fein still plans to cut corporation tax from next year, Mr O’Dowd eventually said: “Well, I understand ]that] in recent briefings to senior business people that Invest NI is maybe perhaps also looking to put that back to at least 2021.”

Pressed again on whether corporation tax will be cut next year, Mr O’Dowd said that “no one could answer that question”. He then said that he had received information from “business contacts” that “Invest NI are suggesting that 2021 would be a better time for that”.

However, when asked about Mr O’Dowd’s claim, yesterday Invest NI said in a statement that it had been “actively selling the April 2018 date for a reduced rate of Corporate Tax” but that after a statement from the Department of Finance at the end of March suggesting that this date “may now slip beyond April 2018 Invest NI has revised its messaging”.

It said that last week in an interview with US network CNBC, Invest NI’s chief executive Alastair Hamilton commented that Northern Ireland had “agreement that will take our corporate tax level down to 12.5% inside the next two to three years”.

The statement added: “Using the word ‘inside’ leaves scope for the implementation to happen at any time during that period. This was a general phrase to reassure potential investors that the reduced rate will still happen, and fairly soon. It was not a definitive statement that the implementation date was now 2021, as some are suggesting.”