Miliband denies Ulster visit was to sound out parties

First Minister the Rt. Hon. Peter Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA pictured during a press conference with Labour leader Ed Miliband MP at Stormont Castle in Belfast
First Minister the Rt. Hon. Peter Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA pictured during a press conference with Labour leader Ed Miliband MP at Stormont Castle in Belfast

Ed Miliband insisted on Thursday that he did not come to Northern Ireland to woo potential coalition partners.

The Labour leader, who met the major political leaders during his visit, claimed that Prime Minister David Cameron was the man worried about a hung parliament.

Ed Miliband visits Hazelwood IC.    Photo M T Hurson/Harrisons

Ed Miliband visits Hazelwood IC. Photo M T Hurson/Harrisons

Asked about speculation over the possibility of a Labour-SNP government, Mr Miliband said: “My focus is very clear, I want a majority Labour government, I think a majority Labour government is what the country needs, that is what I am campaigning for.

“I think David Cameron is the one who now seems to be talking about coalitions and deals – he has clearly given up on winning an election. My task and my focus is entirely on one thing, which is putting a manifesto before the British people and winning that majority.”

With Sinn Fein restating its abstentionist policy at Westminster, the focus of interest in Northern Ireland in the event of a hung parliament will centre on the DUP’s stance.

Asked if he could do business with Mr Miliband, the DUP leader, who no longer holds a seat in Westminster after a shock loss in 2010, said: “There is no question we can do business, we have done business with previous Labour administrations.”

Mr Miliband was on a 24-hour visit to Belfast, which culminated with the meeting with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness at Stormont Castle.

While the exchanges were primarily on political issues facing Northern Ireland, afterwards the leaders faced questions on the general election.

Mr McGuinness said his party was committed to working, in a Stormont context, with whichever party won the election.

Earlier Mr McGuinness’s party leader Gerry Adams, who held a separate meeting with Mr Miliband at Stormont Castle, was blunt when asked if his party would consider taking seats in Westminster if the Labour Party asked for its support.

“No,” he said emphatically.

Prior to arriving at Stormont the Labour leader made a speech in the city centre, during which he warned that a UK exit from the EU would be particularly bad for Northern Ireland.

“We need to remain a country that is open to the world and engaged in Europe,” he said.

“I am very clear about this. A British exit from the European Union would be bad for all of Britain but particularly it would be bad for Northern Ireland. Because of the land border you share with the Republic (of Ireland) you know the importance of that closeness that we have with the European Union. Being an open country is part of being a prosperous country.”

His speech at Ulster University also touched on the challenges of inequality still facing the Province.

He added: “Let me promise this – the next Labour government will work with the Northern Ireland Executive to support economic change as well as supporting political progress. We will not leave you behind. We will take the steps needed to support the peace process and to support Northern Ireland’s economic development.

“And these two challenges, securing the peace process and tackling inequality are so deeply bound up in each other.

“We need to keep the peace process on track to secure economic and social progress.

“And we need economic and social progress to keep the peace process on track.”

Mr Miliband also reiterated a promise made to Belfast business leaders the previous night that his party would not oppose the devolution of corporation tax powers when the issue comes before Parliament next week.

He told guests including schoolchildren, politicians and community sector representatives if his party wins the election they would develop “new ways” of tackling social and economic problems.

But, he added the caveat: “The reality is that the next Labour government won’t have lots of money to spend, we are in very difficult times.”

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers criticised Mr Miliband’s economic pledges and accused him of doing a “U-turn” in voicing support for corporation tax devolution: “It’s clear from his speech today that Ed Miliband has no economic plan for the future of Northern Ireland other than a lethal combination more spending, more borrowing and more debt.”