The best is yet to come for Ulster in 2016
Firstly I would like to wish everybody living in Northern Ireland a very happy New Year. My sympathy and support also goes to all those affected by flooding and disruption and to the emergency services working through the holiday period to protect people from the storms.
I genuinely hope that 2016 is another year of progress. For our part the Government will continue to deliver the manifesto on which we were elected to build ‘a brighter, more secure future’ for all.
Just before Christmas, Belfast was propelled on to the national stage with the hosting of the Sports Personality of the Year. In 2016 we can look forward to getting behind Northern Ireland’s football team at the European Championships in France. There will also be significant centenaries upon which to reflect, including the terrible sacrifice at the Somme and of course the rising in Dublin.
Economically Northern Ireland is recovering, with over 41,000 more people in work than in 2010. Wages rose by over five per cent in the past year. This means more people with the security of a pay packet able to provide for themselves and their families. The UK Government’s long term economic plan is delivering for Northern Ireland.
In April the amount people can earn before paying income tax will rise to £11,000, making a typical taxpayer £905 better off than in 2010. The cost of living is being eased by low interest rates and low inflation. Our welfare reforms are encouraging work, protecting the vulnerable and making the system fairer for taxpayers.
This Government will take no risks with our economic security. We must continue to deal with our debts and tackle the record deficit we inherited. There can be no going back to the days of financial irresponsibility before 2010.
Politically, too, 2016 begins positively. The Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements offer the realistic prospect of placing devolution on a more stable footing. This should give the Executive the opportunity to focus on the kind of priorities shared by everyone in Northern Ireland, including jobs, the NHS and schools. I hope too that a period of relative political stability can enable us to complete the transfer of corporation tax powers that could have such a transformative impact on the local economy.
Devolved government has now been up and running for longer than at any time since the 1960s. But survival is not enough. As always there are big challenges with which to grapple. We remain committed to establishing the new bodies to deal with the legacy of the past. So in the New Year, the Government will be engaging with victims’ representatives and others to try to overcome the remaining obstacles to implementation.
We face the continuing severe threat from terrorism, both nationally and locally. While the number of national security attacks by dissidents is down significantly, the need for constant vigilance remains. Paramilitary-style assaults continue to cause great harm and suffering.
This Government will always give our fullest possible backing to the brave men and women of the PSNI who do such an outstanding job keeping people safe. As part of the Fresh Start Agreement, the Chancellor confirmed £160 million of additional funding which will assist the PSNI in tackling the security threat.
So 2016 promises to be another very busy year. Our aim is always to be a One Nation Government, bringing our country together. The UK Government will continue working hard with Northern Ireland’s politicians and the wider community to build a society where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger and more united.