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Speech

Owen Paterson: Working flat out for peace

Rt Hon Owen Paterson, Wednesday, October 6 2010

Owen Paterson

I'd first like to thank my Minister of State, Hugo Swire, for his support and hard work for the people of Northern Ireland and of course to our Liberal Democrat colleague in the Lords, David Shutt.

In addition I want today to pay a special tribute to a great Ulsterman, Robin Glentoran, for 11 years of service in Opposition as our spokesman in the House of Lords.

It's a tremendous privilege for me to serve as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - representing the UK Government in Northern Ireland and the interests of Northern Ireland within the Government of the United Kingdom.

And our ambitions as a government can be simply stated.
 
They are to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom...
 
...a Northern Ireland in which everybody is treated with equal respect regardless of their community background or political aspirations.
 
...in which they have a shared future.
 
...and in which devolution is working, while we bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics.
  
Great progress has been made in Northern Ireland over the past twenty years.
 
And a lot of people can take credit for that, including my predecessors and politicians in Northern Ireland from all sides.
 
In this party we thank above all John Major who courageously began the search for peace and not for a second forgetting those Conservative Secretaries of State who stood by Northern Ireland in its darkest days.
 
But our greatest admiration, as always, goes to the brave men and women in our police and Armed Forces. 
 
Over a thousand of them lost their lives in the troubles.  Many more were maimed or injured.
 
All of us owe them an immense debt of gratitude.
 
Now, there are some in Northern Ireland who want to re-write history.
 
They want to put our brave police and soldiers on an equal footing with those who sought to destroy democracy.
 
Let me be clear - we will never be party to that.
 
Politically motivated violence was never justified in the past; it can never be justified today.
 
We will always condemn terrorism and support our police and Armed Forces.
 
But we Conservatives should also have the strength to acknowledge when the state, or those who serve it, fail to uphold the highest standards.
 
That's why the Prime Minister was right to apologise for Bloody Sunday.
 
Over the coming months I'll be consulting widely with victims groups and local politicians on how to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past.
 
I don't underestimate how sensitive and contentious this is.
 
But on one thing I'm clear.  As we stated at the election and since, there will be no more costly and open-ended public inquiries.
  
For most people in Northern Ireland today, the overriding priority is the economy.
 
We all know there are some difficult decisions ahead if we are to tackle the deficit and get to grips with Labour's disastrous legacy.
 
The UK simply cannot go on borrowing £270,000 a minute.
 
So Northern Ireland will have to play its part; because this is a team effort and we're all in it together.
 
Within Northern Ireland spending decisions will be for local ministers at Stormont to decide.
 
It's up to them to ensure that public money is spent more efficiently and to start tackling the long-term costs of segregation.
 
Under devolution economic development is mainly their responsibility.
 
But there's an important role for the UK Government too.
 
Every party accepts that Northern Ireland is over-dependent on the public sector. 
 
After 13 years of Labour, public spending accounts for a staggering 77.6 per cent of GDP.
 
This is simply unsustainable.
 
In the past three years I've been in Northern Ireland every week and have visited some world class companies.
 
There just aren't enough of them.
 
So we need to expand the private sector.
 
That's why, along with the Treasury and Stormont ministers, we're working on a long term-plan to re-balance the economy.
 
We're examining proposals to turn Northern Ireland into an enterprise zone.
 
And, as we promised at the election, we'll look at potential mechanisms for changing the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland to attract major new investment
 
Rebalancing the economy will take time - perhaps even 25 years.
 
But to do nothing would be irresponsible, just as to move too quickly would be reckless.
 
Unlike Labour who ignored these problems we are serious about dealing with them.
 
And so I want the message to go out loud and clear - that this Coalition Government is determined to help business.
  
And I want to say something today to one group of people.
 
Last year, referring to the banking crisis, Gordon Brown boasted that 'not one British saver has lost a single penny'
 
In saying this he completely ignored those investors in the Presbyterian Mutual Society who saw their money disappear.
 
During the election David Cameron and I pledged a just and fair resolution of this crisis.
 
We've been working hard on this with the Northern Ireland Executive.
 
And we will honour that pledge.  
  
Today, politics in Northern Ireland is more stable than for over a generation.
 
Devolution has been completed with policing and justice back in local hands.
 
All the key services are now run by Stormont.
 
But there's still much work for us, supporting the process and maintaining stability.
 
Co-operation between the UK and Irish Governments has never been better.
 
The constitutional issues are settled.  Northern Ireland's position within the Union is rock solid so long as that's the wish of its people.
 
But there are still some dangerous armed groups out there who want to destroy what's been achieved and drag Northern Ireland back to a bloody past.
 
And even though they have virtually no popular support, their activities have increased in recent years. 
 
We don't underestimate the threat they pose.
 
But they offer nothing and we will not let them succeed.
 
Co-operation between this Government, the local justice minister, the PSNI and our partners in the Republic of Ireland is unprecedented.
 
And we'll do everything in our power to pursue these criminals, to disrupt them and prevent them from achieving their aims.
 
We will never compromise on security. 
 
And we will always stand by our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.
 
At the election, we were the only party standing in every part of the United Kingdom.
 
...because this party, and this Government, believes in the United Kingdom.
 
We achieved over 100,000 votes and we'll continue to stand for national, non-sectarian politics.
 
We want to end Northern Ireland's semi-detached status and bring it back into the mainstream of UK politics.
 
We will never be neutral on the Union.
 
And we want to move politics on by encouraging new talent.
 
So we'll end 'double jobbing' at Stormont and Westminster by consent if possible, by law if necessary.
 
Northern Ireland has come a very long way since this party began the peace process over twenty years ago.
 
It's involved some hideously difficult moral compromises and some immensely tough decisions.
 
But they were the right calls.
 
We now have a great opportunity to move Northern Ireland forward to the next phase of peace, stability and prosperity.
 
That's what my team is working flat out to achieve.
 
...Working together for Northern Ireland.
 
...And working together in our national interest.
 
So finally, thank you on behalf of my colleagues from Scotland and Wales.
 
Cheryl began with the Ryder Cup.
 
Just remember that this is a team game and the winning shot was played by Graeme McDowell from Portrush.

Rt Hon Owen Paterson

Owen is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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Paterson Owen 2007

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