Speech by Theresa Villiers to the Conservative Party Conference (8 October 2012)
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Speech by Theresa Villiers, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, to the Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham, England, (8 October 2012)
Party conference speech
"This year has seen some great moments for Northern Ireland:
… the Irish Open at Portrush ....
... Northern Ireland athletes competing with such distinction in the Olympics and Paralympics …
… and of course the spectacularly successful Diamond Jubilee visit by Her Majesty the Queen.
And next year there’s more to come … not least with Derry-Londonderry taking its place as the UK’s first ever City of Culture.
These are all positive images of a modern Northern Ireland that’s moving forward and open for business.
The two decades since John Major started the peace process have seen Northern Ireland transformed by the Belfast Agreement and the new political settlement it created.
It should be a source of pride for all those who played a part in that process that a whole generation has now grown up without their lives being blighted by the tragedy and violence that was such a bitter part Northern Ireland’s past.
But crucially important challenges remain.
A key priority has to be building a genuinely shared society by tackling sectarianism and overcoming the divisions that still persist within Northern Ireland.
For all the progress that’s been made, too many children are educated completely separately ... too much public housing remains segregated ... and the costs of division remain far too high.
As the Prime Minister so memorably said in his speech to the Assembly last year:
… Northern Ireland needs a shared future, not a shared out future.
So I welcome the work done by the Executive on shared education … for example to encourage better links between schools to increase understanding and friendship across longstanding community divides.
And I look forward to the publication their strategy on Cohesion, Sharing and Integration.
Because of course it’s the Northern Ireland Executive who rightly have the lead on these matters …
But let me say this.
When they take the difficult decisions needed to make progress ... the UK Government stands ready to back them.
And yes there may be times when the Government and the Executive don’t agree on the pace of change.
But when that happens I hope it can be done in a constructive and grown up way …
… a sign that politics is moving on and the relationship between Westminster and Stormont is both mature and evolving.
And as politics in Northern Ireland move forward, it’s only right that we look at how the devolved institutions might be made more effective.
So we’ve been consulting on issues such as the size of the Assembly and ending dual mandates.
And make no mistake…we will end dual mandates and double jobbing.
We’ve also used this process to give people the chance to have their say on whether, over time, we could move to a more normal system that allows for a government and opposition.
But on this I’m clear.
Any changes can only come about on the basis of widespread agreement among the parties and across the community.
They must be consistent with power sharing and ensure that the rights of both main traditions are properly respected.
Stability in Northern Ireland has been hard won.
And this Government will not push forward with anything which puts that at risk.
And like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland is suffering from the toxic legacy of debt left by the last Labour Government.
Don’t get me wrong …. I’m not saying Labour were responsible for every economic problem in Northern Ireland.
There can be no doubt of the economic damage the Troubles inflicted … in addition to the heavy toll they took in terms of loss of life.
Yet it’s a startling fact that Northern Ireland’s economy was even more dependent on public spending in 2010 when Labour left office than it was when the Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998.
So this Government is at one with the Northern Ireland Executive in recognising the urgent need to rebalance the economy….
… not by slashing the public sector, but by creating the conditions in which wealth creators can flourish and the private sector can grow.
Because unlike Labour .... who remain addicted to more spending and more debt .... we Conservatives understand that it’s sound public finances and private enterprise that are the real engines of economic growth.
There are some truly world-beating businesses in Northern Ireland.
But we need more of those success stories if we’re going to expand the private sector, bring down unemployment and create the jobs of the future.
And while devolution now means that many of the responsibilities for promoting the local economy rest with ministers from the Executive …. some key areas remain the responsibility of Westminster.
The action we’re taking to deal with the deficit and fix the public finances is crucial for keeping interest rates low for businesses and homeowners right across Northern Ireland.
The Chancellor’s budgets have delivered tax cuts for over 600,000 people in Northern Ireland … lifting 25,000 out of tax altogether.
And businesses in Northern Ireland will benefit from George Osborne’s corporation tax cuts and the Funding for Lending scheme to get much needed credit flowing again.
But there are other things we can look at which are more specific to Northern Ireland.
There is widespread support there for devolving rates of corporation tax to the Assembly to enable more effective competition with the Republic of Ireland.
I can see the case for this change and it’s a case I’m discussing with my colleagues in Government.
However … there are still significant issues to overcome before the Government could decide in principle whether or not to proceed.
Like my predecessor, Owen Paterson, I’ve been working with Treasury and Northern Ireland Executive colleagues to see if we can resolve these.
Securing a prosperous Northern Ireland is important for its own sake.
But it also forms part of our wider efforts to underpin peace and political stability and choke off support for those who still seek to achieve their objectives through violence and criminality.
They act in defiance of the will of the people of Ireland … North and South … who voted in such overwhelming numbers for the current settlement.
I have a clear and simple message for those terrorists … you will not succeed.
The future of Northern Ireland will only ever be decided by democracy and consent … never by violence.
For my part, I’ll do everything I can to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.
There must be no return to the bloodshed of the past which saw 3,500 people lose their lives, including so many servicemen and police officers without whose dedication ... courage ... and sacrifice .... we could never have delivered the peace we enjoy in Northern Ireland today.
And we, in this party, will never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to those brave men and women.
We also understand the need to deal with the legacy of the past in an inclusive way which recognises the pain caused to victims and survivors ...
.... while helping everyone in Northern Ireland move forward towards a genuinely shared future.
Ladies and gentlemen …. this morning we’re demonstrating again the enduring importance that we in the Conservative Party attach both to Northern Ireland and to the Union.
Of course the United Kingdom must always be based on the consent of its peoples.
In Northern Ireland that’s reflected fully in the agreements that took so many years to negotiate and we will always stand by them.
But I can assure you of this.
Just like the Prime Minister, I’ll never be neutral in expressing my support for the United Kingdom.
We are in no doubt that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together … weaker apart.
And we will never cease to make the case for a modern, forward looking, inclusive United Kingdom whose best days lie ahead."
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