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In my first week as Prime Minister I visited Northern Ireland and pledged my commitment to this part of the United Kingdom. Today I will speak to the Assembly and I look forward to repeating that pledge. Northern Ireland has moved a long way in the past two decades but our task now is to move it even further forward.
Two recent events above all demonstrate the great progress that’s been made here. First, there was the historic visit of Her Majesty The Queen to the Republic of Ireland. The warmth of her reception was testimony to the closeness of the relationship that now exists between our two countries. Second, there were the elections here in May. For the first time in forty years a local Assembly completed a full term; the ensuing elections led to the smooth formation of a new power-sharing executive. Politics in Northern Ireland now looks more stable than at any time since before the outbreak of the troubles.
Significant consequences flow from both these events. Above all, we now have a real opportunity to move politics forward in Northern Ireland. For too long, political debate here has been dominated by narrow constitutional matters or the latest drama in the peace process. Against a background of greater political stability there’s a chance to put normal, mainstream politics first. So increasingly the political debate should be about things such as the future of education, how to improve the health service, the environment, whether Northern Ireland has the right infrastructure to compete for overseas investment and how to build a genuinely shared future. There will be an increasing public expectation on the Assembly to deliver.
The Coalition Government strongly believes in devolution; we back the political institutions that have been established here and we want them to work. Devolution is all about locally elected politicians coming up with local solutions here in Northern Ireland.
That will be increasingly important given the horrendous financial situation we inherited from the previous administration. Right across the UK, simply asking the Treasury for ever more taxpayers’ money is simply not an option. All parts of the UK have to play their part in tackling Labour’s deficit, though here in Northern Ireland public spending remains around 25 per cent higher per head than in England and it was cut proportionately less than other parts of the UK. By the end of this Parliament, the Northern Ireland budget will have gone down by 6.9 per cent, less than the 8.3 per cent UK average. In addition we fulfilled our pledge to help provide a just and fair resolution to the crisis in the PMS; and we have given significantly more extra money to the PSNI to tackle the continuing terrorist threat.
And like many other parts of the UK, the economy in Northern Ireland needs rebalancing too. All parties here agree that Northern Ireland is too dependent on the public sector. We need a dynamic private sector to generate the wealth that pays for top quality public services and which here in Northern Ireland will help to underpin peace. We are doing everything we can do to help drive a private sector recovery: boosting trade, cutting unnecessary regulation and key business taxes - and, of course, looking at issues specifically in Northern Ireland such as the case for devolving corporation tax.
I believe that Northern Ireland’s best days lie ahead. We have a real chance to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous society in which everybody has a genuinely shared future. In the coming months and years this Government will continue to work with people and parties from right across the community here to help make that a reality.