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Vernon Coaker MP, Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, responding to today's Westminster Hall debate on the Northern Ireland economy, said:

"This was a welcome opportunity to discuss the challenges facing the Northern Ireland economy.

"I have visited creative and successful businesses which are a source of great pride to Northern Ireland. But I know too that many businesses face real difficulties, and that small business and the construction industry have suffered particularly badly in the current economic downturn.

"That's why Labour has called for a temporary reversal of the Tory-led Government's VAT increase, as part of our five point plan for jobs and growth. This will put money in people's pockets which they can spend on high streets in towns across Northern Ireland, and it will help grow the region's stagnating private sector.

"It was both disappointing and surprising that the Secretary of State snubbed the debate. This is an important issue that deserves the Government's full attention. It is very worrying that just weeks before the budget, Owen Paterson isn't interested in the Northern Ireland economy.

"I want to commend my Labour colleague Owen Smith MP, the Shadow Exchequer Secretary, for his remarks during today's debate. I was also joined in the debate by the Shadow Northern Ireland Minister, Steve Pound MP. Labour takes Northern Ireland seriously, and we will continue to stand up and speak up for Northern Ireland in Westminster.”

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