Election diary: Pass on tax cuts to staff, says UUP

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt with Upper Bann candidate   Jo-Anne Dobson
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt with Upper Bann candidate Jo-Anne Dobson

The UUP has said that it wants to see corporation tax slashed from 21 per cent to 12.5 per cent — but would “expect” companies that benefit to then pay their employees the ‘living wage’.

The pledge was made in the party’s manifesto, which was launched yesterday in Portadown, a town in the heart of its top target seat of Upper Bann.

The manifesto also does not completely rule out fracking, an issue particularly important in Fermanagh, where Tom Elliott is hoping to unseat Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew.

It says the party would “oppose applications to frack unless they have been independently supported by means of positive environmental impact assessments, health impact assessments, economic business plans and any other process necessary to form an evidence-based judgment”.

The party also says that it would “seek to deliver” on what it says is an ambition of the business community to create a Northern Ireland-owned bank focussed on the local economy.

The party also pledged increased investment in the NHS, though it ruled out one proposal to raise some of that revenue.

The DUP has proposed reintroducing a modest prescription charge to pay for a specialist drugs fund, but the UUP denounced “falsehearted attempts to predetermine a specialised drugs fund on the reintroduction of prescriptions charges”.

The party said that the biggest issue facing the UK was the “debt mountain”, something it said was an “inconvenient truth” for some.

Robinson campaigns in North Down seat

First Minister Peter Robinson has been campaigning in North Down in what could either be an indication that he believes his own former East Belfast seat is comfortably going to the DUP, or a sign that he is still not a vote-winner in East Belfast.

The DUP surprised some of its own members — who believed the party would be more focussed on winning marginal seats such as East Belfast — when it announced that Alex Easton would stand against Lady Hermon in North Down.

Mr Robinson said: “The message we’re taking to the doors in North Down is that this election is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Northern Ireland could have massive influence in the House of Commons. To maximise this opportunity we need a large block of MPs. Every seat will matter. We’ve a billboard campaign across the Province highlighting that more DUP seats means more influence for Northern Ireland.”

TUV ‘sore’ at exclusion from hustings event

The TUV has accused two Christian charities of unfairly excluding its candidates from hustings events (see top right), a decision it says “does not stand up to scrutiny”.

Lagan Valley TUV candidate Samuel Morrison said it was “manifestly unfair” for Evangelical Alliance and CARE to exclude his party from events outside North Antrim and said the party’s North Down candidate, William Cudworth, had been invited before having the invitation rescinded.

He said that even if the hustings were based on the top five parties in a constituency, that should qualify the party for a place at the Lagan Valley hustings.

Mr Morrison said he was particularly unhappy at the move because “TUV is the only party I am aware of who has referenced the Ashers case in our literature and put the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage on the front of our election communication”.

He added: “Other parties – such as the DUP – didn’t even bother to respond to the Department of Justice consultation on abortion.”

He made clear: “TUV is not an opponent of the Evangelical Alliance. Indeed, last year we had a speaker from the organisation at our party conference. It is deeply disappointing that they seem set to exclude the TUV voice from these events, particularly when we have been so clear on moral issues.”

David Smith from Evangelical Alliance said that it had “set out criteria in line with the Electoral Commission guidelines. Unfortunately, this means that not all candidates will be invited to every event.”

Trust us on tax: Villers

The Conservatives are the only party that can be trusted to transfer corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland after the general election, Theresa Villiers has insisted.

Addressing party faithful in Belfast at the launch of the Tories’ local manifesto, the Secretary of State questioned Labour’s commitment to the handover of the power.

The coalition Government passed legislation to enable the devolution of the power from Westminster to the Stormont Executive in the final weeks of the last parliament.

But the next government will have to trigger a commencement clause to formally transfer the key tax varying responsibility to Belfast.

The Tories have pledged to give the green-light, as long as the Executive can demonstrate it is on a firm financial footing.

Ms Villiers said Labour had been silent on its intentions if it got into Downing Street, with the issue “conspicuously absent from Labour’s 102-word manifesto for Northern Ireland”.

Pro-cannabis party gets broadcast

A controversial pro-cannabis political broadcast has been aired in Northern Ireland.

The Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol Party (CISTA) qualified for the groundbreaking broadcast because it is standing four candidates in Northern Ireland.

First Minister Peter Robinson has criticised the decision to allow the party election broadcast.

The film – which is less than five minutes in length – argued for a Royal Commission to investigate the current drug laws. It focussed on arguments for decriminalising cannabis for medicinal use, rather than for wider social use.

An anonymous cannabis user whose features were obscured during the broadcast said: “I have a dream — that the Government will respect my choice as an adult to consume marijuana rather than opiate-based painkillers.”

Paul Birch, the founder and funder of CISTA, said: “We’ve had a regulated alcohol market in the UK for hundreds of years. We need a regulated cannabis market for people’s health and well-being.”

Hustings events

l South Belfast: Taughmonagh Social Club, April 21. DUP, UUP and Ukip candidates invited, Pete Shirlow as chair (organiser: South Belfast UPRG).

l Lagan Valley: Legacurry Presbyterian Church, April 22, 7.30pm (Evangelical Alliance/CARE).

l North Down: First Holywood Presbyterian Church, April 23, 7.30pm (EA/CARE).

l East Londonderry: Causeway Coast Vineyard church, Coleraine, 24 April, 7.30pm (EA/CARE).

l North Antrim: High Kirk Presbyterian Church, Ballymena, April 28, 7.30pm (EA/CARE).

l South Belfast: Windsor Baptist Church, April 30, 7.30pm (EA/CARE).

(The Magee campus event advertised in this column has been cancelled)

If you are organising a hustings event, email sam.mcbride@newsletter.co.uk