Page last updated at 19:28 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 20:28 UK

No drastic cuts for NI says Secretary of State Paterson

Owen Paterson arrives at Downing Street on Wednesday
Owen Paterson was appointed secretary of state on Wednesday

Northern Ireland will bear its share of the UK's budget deficit burden but no drastic cuts will be made, Secretary of State Owen Paterson has said.

Mr Paterson met the first and deputy first minister at Stormont on Friday.

He said he wanted to work with devolved ministers on a long-term plan to build a strong private sector which would take "at least 25 years".

"I'm very keen that we publish a paper on how to devolve corporation tax to the devolved institutions," he added.

Companies in Northern Ireland have been lobbying for a major reduction in corporation tax paid on businesses' profits, in order to promote investment.

Mr Paterson has been holding a series of meetings with senior Northern Ireland politicians on Friday, as well as Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

He said the unsustainable UK debt had to be tackled, adding: "Northern Ireland, as we know, has special circumstances.

Most importantly, now in my role as secretary of state, I will continue to work with all parties
Owen Paterson
Northern Ireland secretary

"State spending here represents 77.6% of GDP. I have said for nearly three years now that is also unsustainable.

"It is irresponsible to do nothing about it. It is equally irresponsible to do anything drastic."

Mr Paterson said that while efficiencies would be sought, health spending would be protected.

The 53-year-old is the first Conservative secretary of state since 1997, when Sir Patrick Mayhew held office in John Major's administration.

Contact network

The Cambridge graduate was appointed shadow Northern Ireland secretary in July 2007.

Mr Paterson has been a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland since then and has built up a network of contacts with political parties, business organisations and community groups.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Paterson indicated he would remain a pro-Union politician, adding: "Most importantly, now in my role as secretary of state, I will continue to work with all parties."

He said he would be even-handed and had already built a relationship with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, whom he said had phoned him during coalition talks at Westminster to see how they were progressing.

"I spent probably more time in the deepest, wildest parts of Northern Ireland with Sinn Fein members of parliament and councillors and I want to very much carry on that," he said.

Asked whether he viewed republican areas to be the "deepest and the wildest", he referred to trips he had taken to the border areas of South Armagh.

"Well I think when you go down to the sort of Forkhill and Cullyhanna, you're quite a long way from here and it feels a long way from here," he said, adding: "I tell you the best bread is in Crossmaglen - I always buy wheaten bread."

The first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, said their meeting had been dominated by economic matters.

Mr Paterson also held talks with the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists.

Junior minister

Meanwhile the Conservative MP Hugo Swire, a son-in-law of former defence secretary John Nott, has been confirmed as a junior minister at the Northern Ireland Office.

He was educated at Eton and St Andrews before going to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, later serving with the Grenadier Guards.

Mr Swire, 50, was elected as the Conservative MP for East Devon in June 2001.

He was a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee between 2002 and 2005.

Mr Swire joined the Shadow Cabinet in December 2005 when David Cameron appointed him Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

However, he was sacked in the July 2007 Conservative re-shuffle for suggesting his party would scrap free museum entry, but later returned from the back benches.

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