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Theresa Villiers: Democratic Unionist Party Conference

Rt. Hon Theresa Villiers, Saturday, November 24 2012

Theresa Villiers

“It is a great pleasure to be here. 

I’d like to start by thanking the First Minister for his kind invitation to address your conference this afternoon.

My speech will cover four themes.

I’ll emphasise the Government’s overriding commitment to keeping people here safe and secure.

I’ll set out what we’re doing to help Northern Ireland through these very difficult economic times and rebalance the economy.

I’ll reiterate the importance we attach to building a genuinely shared future for Northern Ireland.

And I’ll underline the importance that my party and the Government attach to the future of our United Kingdom. 

Just over three weeks ago Northern Ireland witnessed a despicable and cowardly attack which left a prison officer dead and his family devastated.

I very much welcome the swift and resolute condemnation of that atrocity from right across the community here… and from the rest of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the United States.

While no words of ours can ever make up for the loss David Black’s family have suffered … it is right that all of us demonstrate a united determination that the evil people responsible for his murder will never succeed in their aims.

The future of Northern Ireland will only ever be decided by democracy and consent … and never by terrorist violence.

And I say those words mindful of the fact that we meet here today at the venue of one of the most appalling and savage acts of the troubles.

The murder of David Black provides a tragic illustration of the threat that these so-called dissidents pose.
They despise the progress that has been made here over the past two decades.

They wish to destabilise the political institutions and drag Northern Ireland back to its troubled past.

They might be small in number … they have virtually no popular or political support. But they have the capacity to inflict violence and they possess lethal intent. 

So continuing vigilance is essential.

I want today to pay the strongest possible tribute to the men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland … and to the officers of the Prison Service.

They serve this community without fear or favour … and with the utmost dedication and professionalism.

As Peter rightly said … ‘an attack on them is an attack on all of us’.

And it is worth emphasising that the PSNI is perhaps the most scrutinised and accountable police service in Western Europe.

They do a fantastic job and they have the Government’s complete backing.

It’s in large part down to their efforts that almost all of the attacks planned by terrorists are thwarted.

And let me be very clear … it is the UK Government’s first priority to keep our citizens safe from harm … both here and throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

On coming to power we endorsed an additional £50 million for policing here.

In our national security strategy we made tackling Northern Ireland related terrorism a tier one priority.

And despite these times of austerity … we secured an exceptional additional £200 million over four years from the Treasury.

As I said in the debate sponsored by your MPs in Parliament this week … the Government will continue to do everything we can to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe from the terrorist threat.

And I should also emphasise that vital assistance with this task is provided by the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland.

Co-operation between the PSNI and the AGS has never been closer than it is now and it continues to save lives.

So when praising Matt Baggott and the PSNI … I would also like to thank Commissioner Callinan and his officers in the AGS for all that they do in the joint fight against terrorism.
Their contribution and their efforts are crucial.

Indeed it’s worth noting that across the board, relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland are probably better than they ever have been.

And your decision to invite a member of the Irish Government to your conference is a further illustration of how much has changed in Northern Ireland over recent years.

As is widely accepted though … terrorism is never going to be defeated by security measures alone … crucial though such measures are.

As well as bearing down on the terror threat through an effective security response … we also need to develop the Northern Ireland economy … tackle the causes of division … and demonstrate clearly that the political institutions here are delivering.

And I’ve promised to work closely with the Executive in pursuit of all of those objectives.

Let me set out our approach to the economy.

When the Government came to power in May 2010, we inherited the largest structural deficit in our peacetime history.

Our deficit was the highest of any major developed economy.

To put it bluntly … this country was on the brink of bankruptcy.

As a result, we have been forced to borrow around £200,000 a minute and pay over £120 million a day in interest on the debts left us by Labour.

So the overriding objective of the Coalition Government on coming to office was to rescue the economy by repairing the public finances and starting to live within our means as a country.

Our Labour opponents argue that we should deal with the deficit at a slower pace or even that we should borrow more to spend more.

It only takes simple common sense to understand that you don't solve a debt crisis by creating more debt.

Not only would Labour’s approach inflict deep and lasting economic damage, it is also morally wrong to laden future generations with an even larger legacy of debt. And when Labour advocate large cuts in VAT … they have a duty to tell us where they would find the additional £15 billion this would cost.

There’s no doubt that we’ve had to make many hard choices since coming to office.

Nor is there any doubt that our economy has been severely hampered by the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone.

Yet two and a half years on we’ve reduced Labour’s deficit by a quarter and gained the confidence of the international markets.

That’s kept interest rates low, helping everyone who runs a business or who pays a mortgage.

To help business, we’ve cut the UK’s corporation tax.

By the end of this Parliament, our corporate tax rates will be the lowest of any major developed economy.

And we’re setting up the Funding for Lending scheme help businesses access much needed finance to get investment flowing again.

I’m keen to work closely with Sammy to ensure that Northern Ireland gains the full benefit from these and other schemes to get the banks lending again to businesses.

Now, at last, we are seeing the first, tentative signs that our economy is healing.

Across the UK the economy is growing and unemployment is falling.

And we’ve been helped in our efforts to fix the economy by the fact that this country decided to stay out of the Euro and keep its own currency. 

Back in the 90s when I was campaigning against Euro membership … people told me I was fighting a losing battle.

They said scrapping our currency was inevitable as the next stage of European integration and that the Euro was the passport to economic stability and prosperity.

How hollow those claims have turned out to be … and parties like the Conservatives and the DUP should be proud of the fact that we were at the forefront of the campaign to keep our currency and defend our sovereignty from encroachment from Brussels.

But I fully appreciate the scale of the economic challenges faced in Northern Ireland.

In particular, we are too dependent on public spending … even more so than at the time of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

So I share the determination of the Executive to rebalance the economy and boost the private sector.

Many of the responsibilities rest with local ministers …. with Peter, Sammy and Arlene in particular.

And I pay tribute to the work they do to promote Northern Ireland in the intensively competitive global race for jobs and investment.

And I congratulate them on their recent highly successful visit to China.

For its size, Northern Ireland is the best performing region of the UK when it comes to foreign direct investment … with striking success for example in the financial services technology sector.

But in some respects … we still lag behind the Republic of Ireland.

So we have been looking very hard at the case for devolving Corporation Tax to the Executive to enable us to become even more competitive.

The Ministerial Working Group set up to examine this has completed its work and a report has gone to the Prime Minister.

As he said during his visit this week … he is now considering that report and will respond to it in due course.

But whatever the outcome on Corporation Tax devolution … this Government is determined, with the Executive, to present a modern, forward looking Northern Ireland that’s great a place for investment.

That’s what we’ll be doing next year when County Fermanagh hosts the G8 Summit that brings together eight of the world’s most powerful economies.

It will showcase Northern Ireland as an inspirational setting for world leaders to discuss ambitious solutions to pressing global problems.

It will demonstrate what an excellent location Northern Ireland is to do business in.

And it will highlight the growing confidence that exists in this part of the United Kingdom.

I believe that it will be a real success for Northern Ireland … and I thank you for the resounding welcome you have given it.

Another area in which we can highlight a modern, forward looking Northern Ireland is in our efforts to tackle sectarianism and build a genuinely shared future.

For all the progress that’s been made in recent years, the economic and social costs of division here are far too high.

But there’s another dimension too.

It also helps to feed the discontent on which dissidents prey and recruit.

So tackling it has to be a number one priority.

Most of the policy areas on this are devolved … but where you take the tough decisions needed to make progress you will have the backing of the Government.

As the Prime Minister so memorably put it in the Assembly last year, Northern Ireland needs a shared future not a shared out future.

We need to build a united Northern Ireland for everyone, regardless of their community background.

And I know that is a vision that’s shared by the First Minister and your party. 

We meet today with Northern Ireland enjoying unprecedented political stability.

The great constitutional issues have been settled on the basis of consent.

The only way that Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom will ever change is if that’s what the people of Northern Ireland decide they want.

That’s at the heart of all the political agreements and we will always stand by them.

But along with the Prime Minister I am clear on my support for the United Kingdom.

We will never be neutral on the Union.

That goes for Northern Ireland … and for Scotland too.

For we believe that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together, weaker apart.

As a United Kingdom we have together achieved a huge amount.

We are a major player on the world stage, not least through the Commonwealth, the G8 and our permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

But the case for keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom won’t be won by appealing to history.

We will prevail by presenting a vision of a modern, inclusive, forward looking United Kingdom that respects the diversity of each of its constituent parts but also enables us to come together as one nation … as we did so successfully this year at the Olympics. 

That is the message that we will be putting forward alongside those from all parties and of none who believe that we are indeed … better together.

Rt. Hon Theresa Villiers

Theresa is Member of Parliament for Chipping Barnet and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

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