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UK Politics

Shaun Woodward accuses Government of breaking promise on Belfast

The Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward used his speech to the Labour conference yesterday to criticise the Government for not honouring the promise to hold an inquiry into a controversial Belfast killing.

He said the commitment by Tony Blair to investigate the killing of Pat Finucane, the defence solicitor shot dead by loyalist extremists in Belfast more than two decades ago, should be honoured by the Government.

The 1989 shooting has generated widespread calls for an inquiry amid allegations that elements of the security services helped direct the assassins. The process of setting up an inquiry, and deciding on the limitations likely to be placed on its remit, has taken many years. The Finucane family is pressing for an investigation which would be as wide and as open as possible.

In July the solicitor's widow, Geraldine Finucane, said Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson had promised her a decision on the inquiry earlier this year, but had not delivered.

She added: "It is an untenable and insensitive situation and confirms my belief that the policy of delay continues. I am also very unhappy that no reason has been provided to me for this delay."

Mr Woodward said yesterday that Mr Paterson would be taking a huge gamble if he decided against an inquiry, despite a promise which Labour had made in good faith. He declared: "He promised his decision would be soon, but no decision yet. If it is his intention to renege on the commitment, I urge him to think again."

Mr Woodward, who was Northern Ireland Secretary for three years, said that "when history looks back on the great achievements of Labour in government the peace process in Northern Ireland will rank high."

On the local economy, he accused the Government of undermining attempts by the devolved Belfast administration to bring foreign investment to Belfast. He said the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, were working hard to promote investment, and that they had secured some new jobs. But he added: "Their hard work is savaged by Coalition policy – not so much a helping hand as a succession of closed doors." He said that David Cameron's approach of limiting his availability to Belfast politicians "certainly leaves Northern Ireland weaker".

Although Mr Woodward commended the investment efforts of Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, he made it clear he opposed their joint policy of seeking a cut in corporation tax to attract new companies. The major Belfast parties and most of the business community support such a cut, as does Mr Paterson. The Treasury has yet to confirm that it would agree to the measure. Mr Woodward said the proposed cut was "a huge gamble", since it would be paid for by an annual £300m reduction in Northern Ireland's money from London.

He declared: "Trade unions are against the cut – unions worried for the tens of thousands in the public sector who will pay for the cut with their jobs in schools and hospitals. Our fear is that it heralds a race to the bottom."

He said there were forecasts that 40,000 jobs are to be lost in Northern Ireland, which had the worst unemployment figures for young people in 15 years.