2013 has the potential to be a great year for Northern Ireland, building on the many successes of the past 12 months that included the Diamond Jubilee, the Irish Open and the Titanic centenary. They showed off the best of Northern Ireland.
Already in 2013 Derry-Londonderry has taken its place as the first UK City of Culture and later this year will be the first city here to host the all-Ireland Fleadh. Belfast will see the World Police and Fire Games, the third largest international multi-sport event in the world. In June some of the most powerful world leaders will be in Co Fermanagh for the G8 summit.
All of these provide us with the opportunity to present to the world a modern, optimistic and forward looking Northern Ireland that is both a thriving cultural hub and very much open for business. That is the Northern Ireland that I believe the overwhelming majority of people here want - a place that has left the bitter past behind and whose best days lie ahead. It is also essential if Northern Ireland is going to compete effectively in the global race for new investment and jobs.
Northern Ireland has huge attractions as a place for investment. Yet all of these would count for very little if the enduring image of Northern Ireland across the globe is one of continuing conflict, division and sectarianism. Attracting new investment is crucial to Northern Ireland’s future, particularly when the days of relying on ever increasing levels of public spending to sustain the economy are behind us.
This Easter also sees the 15th anniversary of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The principles underpinning that Agreement remain as valid and important today as they did then - consent over any constitutional change, inclusive devolved government, practical cross-border co-operation and a strong working relationship between the UK and Irish Governments.
Much has been achieved in the 15 years since the Agreement and in many respects Northern Ireland is unrecognisable compared to the place it was. Yet few will disagree that we still have a long way to go if we are to build the peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland that most of us want to see. The economy is still far too dependent on the public sector. Sadly, there is also still too much sectarianism and division in society.
So I hope that 2013 will see a renewed determination to deal with these issues - to rebalance the economy and set about building a genuinely shared society here. These need to be high priorities for both the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. I look forward to spending 2013 working with local politicians and others on making solid progress on them.
Lastly I would like to emphasise how much I have enjoyed my first months as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have huge admiration for the people of Northern Ireland and all that they have achieved over recent years. There is no doubt that this is a great place to live and to do business in. It is a real honour for me to able to represent Northern Ireland at the Cabinet table and play my part in keeping people here safe and in helping to build a prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland.