Miliband woos Northern Ireland

The Labour leader visited Stormont to discuss the peace process and the devolution of corporation tax powers

Ed Miliband has pledged to review his party’s ongoing commitment not to contest elections in Northern Ireland in the next parliament.

His comments to the Belfast Telegraph came during only his second visit to Northern Ireland as leader of the opposition.

Despite the promise of a review however, Miliband sought to dampen expectations that it would result in a dramatic u-turn, noting the failure of Conservative involvement in Northern Ireland in 2010.

He told the paper:

“I understand the view that some people take on this. But the position we have always taken is that we must be honest brokers in terms of the peace process and political negotiations, and running candidates in the election would run against that.

“The Conservatives, if you remember, tried to get involved here in a partnership (with the UUP) and I don’t think that was very successful.”

Miliband’s 24-hour flying visit, which included meetings with the First and Deputy First Ministers saw him speak of the ‘inspiration’ that the peace process in Northern Ireland has been to him. Accompanied by Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Ivan Lewis, he said:

“I was a kid growing up in the 1980s in London and, as I’ve discussed with both of you, Northern Ireland then was talked about only in the news for conflict.

“Today, it’s talked about for many other much more positive reasons, and to hear you discussing issues of health, education and welfare, and all of the other economic and social challenges that Northern Ireland faces, is a sign of success.”

It was also announced that Labour would work with the government to facilitate speedy progress on passing the legislation needed to give Stormont powers to set corporation taxes as outlined by the chancellor in the Autumn Statement.

The visit, billed as an opportunity for Labour to outline its plans for Northern Ireland if they gain the keys to Downing Street, will have been an opportunity also to build a rapporteur with parties whose support he made need.

Already rumours abound that a Sinn Fein MP could take their seats in the Commons if they feel they have a genuine opportunity to influence policy, whilst Labour HQ will be cheered at DUP Leader Peter Robinson’s declaration that  there is ‘no question’ that his party, which currently has 8 MPs in the Commons could  do  ‘business’ with Ed Miliband.

Robinson’s remarks are likely to be seen as something of a snub by David Cameron, who last May held a drinks reception at Downing Street for DUP MPs to court their support ahead of the general election.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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