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Why the Devolution of Corporation Tax is Key to Tackling Northern Ireland's Youth Joblessness

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For the young person in Northern Ireland current prospects are dire and as I look to the future, speaking directly as a young and disgruntled jobless person, I am filled with foreboding.

My bleak outlook as I look towards the future is not baseless: leading economic indicators and the shape of the Northern Ireland economy underpin this view.

The latest data has shown that youth unemployment in Northern Ireland has risen for the seventh consecutive month, elevating to a 16 year high of nearly 23%. This stands in stark contrast to a rather tame youth jobless rate of 9.6% when the Northern Ireland peace accord was signed in 1998 - a time when political and social unrest prevailed.

As euro zone headwinds press on UK growth has been forecast at - 0.3%, and as austerity and economic retrenchment continue it's hard to see from where a healthy and sustainable market demand for our young workers is going to come from.

Northern Ireland produces some of the most highly educated and ambitious workforces in the world thanks to some top performing schools and two universities that can compete with the best around the globe. However the economic fundamentals of Northern Ireland, which go far beyond the effects of the European and global financial crisis, dictate that this troubled region simply doesn't have the indigenous or foreign industry, resources or the internal demand for the very workers that it produces.

The economic realities of Northern Ireland are hard hitting and offer little hope for today's young person and those of the future: they can look upon a swollen and unresponsive public sector that employs a third of the regions workforce, limited private business and a weak export base that counts the UK and the ROI as its primary export markets.

The Northern Ireland young people are also children of a region that relies on an £11bn subvention from the British Treasury and offspring of a province still reeling from the scars of 30 years of conflict - a shameful and lingering chapter in our past that remains a notable deterrent for anyone seeking to do business in our wee part of the UK.

Because of this Northern Ireland is a strange and unwieldy propped up Potemkin economy that is more a relic of the Soviet era than a regional arm of one of the world's most politically manoeuvrable and economically developed countries.

However can young people settle for a quasi-democratic political settlement and an economy that runs an annual deficit of 50% and upwards? Do our young people really want to continue relying indefinitely on budgetary transfers, work in a bureaucratic public sector or have their ambitions curtailed by the embedded perception that sees Northern Ireland as a sterile outpost of the UK that should forever coast by on handouts?

Do we really wants to leave our families and carry on counting our talented young people, innovative minds and skilled workforce as our greatest export?

Or do our young people want to live in, raise a family and direct their tax stream into the purse of the region they were born in and be part of a fast paced, responsive and dynamic economy that can attract and retain some of the world's leading businesses?

Is this not a vision that the young people of Northern Ireland want not only for themselves but also for their children?

This blue sky vision can be a reality and its making is entirely within the hands of ministers at Stormont and Westminster; all it would take to turn this rhetoric to a touchable reality is the sweep of a pen from Whitehall.

Should the Northern Ireland policy makers be endowed with fiscal self-determination and thus the ability to set the rate at which corporation tax be levied they could spark a corporate and industrial renaissance.

By holding the levers of this central tool of economic policy making Stormont ministers could not only fundamentally regenerate our hostile business environment but they could also empower our legislative assembly and embed a more robust and combative form of devolution.

Suddenly with inward investment Northern Ireland could become a self-reliant region that is outward looking and ready to participate and engage with the world's expanding markets; reversing the tendency for our people to be introspective and degenerative.

We already have two happy precedents that tell us that our cherished fiscal aspirations are tangible: firstly a judgement handed down by the European court upheld the legality of devolving fiscal powers to a regional economy; and secondly, the recent down shift to the rate of air passenger duty in Northern Ireland to a low of 2% tells us that a Whitehall pen can make things happen.

Suggestions that a commensurate drop in grant aid in compliance with EU case law would damage Northern Ireland are also exaggerated and, if anything, less reliance on the British Treasury would be a good thing. The reduction in the block grant itself would amount to £250-£500m; however this is but a fraction of the £11bn total that is granted to Northern Ireland annually.

The fiscal lifeline that stimulated our economy in recent years, coming from Brussels in the form of the Selective Financial Assistance grant, is coming to an end and without that short term fiscal fix Northern Ireland policy makers will be stripped the little fiscal edge that they had to attract inward investment - investment that brought jobs and wealth and with these some sense of modernity in a province that had been drawn into an internecine and fratricidal conflict for decades.

And now as we look forward in a fiscally and economically sterile land the scope for attracting businesses and jobs into Northern Ireland appears to be fatally limited. With this will come economic stagnation and rising unemployment with the usual routes open for our young people: coasting along or emigration for the highly skilled and the rise of paramilitarism for the low skilled.

And with paramilitarism will come the old tribal divisions, instability and mindless violence as disaffected young men and women find a role, purpose and a place in society.

Newton Emerson writing in the Sunday Times has echoed the direction of this piece when he said that the devolution of corporation tax was the only shot Northern Ireland had at securing economic growth after the public-spending crunch due in 2015.

And so Stormont and the Northern Ireland Office must act; they must drop the political brinkmanship and move forward with resolve and take the bold move to devolve corporate tax raising powers.

With a lower rate of corporation tax would Stormont would be equipped with a gleaming fiscal edge that could attract the businesses, jobs and innovation that this province, especially our young people, so desperately need.

Of course fiscal independence would not be the silver bullet that would solve all societal ills, but by easing our dependence on the Treasury's purse we would give our young people jobs and a meaningful future and leave a real and lasting legacy for our posterity.

I despise the apathy and patent disinterest that Westminster and Downing Street hold in their regard as they gaze across the Irish Sea towards the people of Northern Ireland. I also despise the lack of daring by Stormont ministers who are risking the future of Northern Ireland's youth.

We've reached an interesting point in the evolution of devolution process in Northern: a stage on the road where we have reached all-party agreement on an issue that now transcends the traditional partisan divisions and unites protestants, catholics, unionists, nationalists, moderates and businesses.

Should our key economic decision makers, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster, fail to capitalise on this rare cross party consensus this region and its young people will be robbed of a future and future generations will be condemned to continue the process of coasting along, the endemic unfulfilling of potential and forced emigration.