Speech

Transcript of interview in Northern Ireland

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A transcript of Prime Minister David Cameron's media interview in Northern Ireland on 9 June 2011.

Prime Minister:

Well, thank you very much. It’s great to be back in Northern Ireland and I’ve had some excellent discussions with the First and Deputy First Minister. One of the things I’ve found particularly striking is that we weren’t spending all our time talking about constitutional issues or even particularly security issues; we were talking about the issues of a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland - the importance of improving healthcare and education and making sure our economy grows, making sure there are job opportunities and making sure everyone can share in the success we all want to see in Northern Ireland. So I congratulate them both on their re-election, their new mandate, and all the things that we hope the Northern Ireland Assembly will achieve on behalf of everyone in Northern Ireland over the coming years.

Reporter:

Prime Minister, you were with the First and Deputy First Ministers in Downing Street yesterday and you’re here at Stormont Castle today, but you haven’t set foot in the place for 13 months - was that deliberate?

Prime Minister:

No, it wasn’t deliberate at all. I came to Northern Ireland immediately after becoming Prime Minister; I’m back here now. Of course I’d like to get to every part of the United Kingdom more often than I do, but I have huge responsibilities back in Westminster and obviously the need to do quite a lot of international travel. But what I would say is this: that I did make, before the election, some promises to people in Northern Ireland and I hope people will judge me on those promises, not just on how often I set foot here. I promised, for instance, that we would deal swiftly with the issue of the Presbyterian Mutual Society. That was a promise made, that is a promise kept and today we know that the first payments are planned to be paid out. I said that we would deal quickly and robustly with the issue of Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry. We didn’t delay, we didn’t hold it up, we published that report and made a very clear statement. So I would ask people in Northern Ireland to judge me and my Government on the respect that we show to Northern Ireland, to all its people and to the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, with whom we are working incredibly closely. We won’t always agree about everything - there will be disputes we’ll find more difficult to resolve, but I would argue, on the evidence of the last year, people in Northern Ireland can know there is a Government in Westminster that treats them and their institutions with respect and tries to solve all of the problems that we face in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom.

Reporter:

Prime Minister, obviously the Corporation Tax consultation is still live at the moment so you can’t give a definitive answer on that, but given that you did state on several occasions that you were a passionate unionist, do you think you could move ahead with something like this without unpicking the rules of the UK, as far as it would lead to a domino impact elsewhere [as heard]?

Prime Minister:

Well, there’s a consultation under way, it’s nearly completed and I think we need to make sure that is completed. What I’d say is this: two points. First of all, I understand the difficulties and the problems when you have a land border with the Republic of Ireland, the very low Corporation Tax rate there, and also I understand the very severe problem we have with an economy in Northern Ireland that has become far too reliant on the public sector, I think everyone would share the same view: we need a strong private sector-led recovery here in Northern Ireland. But one last point I’d make is this: that in terms of rebalancing the economy, of getting the growth and the jobs and the investment and the business creation we want here in Northern Ireland, there is no one single act that will deliver that. We need to make sure we’re looking at the planning laws, we’re getting houses built again, we’re helping small businesses, we’re training apprentices, we’re making it attractive for businesses to come here. Yes, that’s about tax, but it’s also about many, many other things too and we were discussing some of those at our meeting yesterday and again today, and we’re committed to work together on all of those issues.

Reporter:

Prime Minister, I want you to think carefully what I’m asking you because you may not be as familiar with this subject as you ought to be, probably.

Prime Minister:

That’s very kind of you.

Reporter:

A big cancer in our midst here, after the economy, I think the consensus would be, with your colleagues [unclear] is the whole question of the past and sectarianism. In the past week, it’s been revealed that three high-ranking former IRA personnel actually briefed the legal team in the Smithwick Inquiry [unclear] into the killing of two former police officers, high-ranking police officers. Do you believe that therein lies the business for a truth commission to be established so that people can [unclear ].

Prime Minister:

Well, that is a… it is a very complicated question and thank you for the, sort of, warning you gave about its complexity. Look, I’m well aware of the issues around the Smithwick Inquiry and was asked about it yesterday in the House of Commons. What I would say is this: that I think the work of that inquiry is important, just as the work of other inquiries has been important; I think the work of the Historical Enquiries Team is vitally important. But as I said in the House of Commons yesterday, I think what really it is that people want is the truth. It wasn’t actually the 12 years or the £190 million of the Saville Inquiry that was so important and valuable, it was the truth; it was people being able to see what actually happened, who was responsible. That is what people need to know, and that is what I think we should be focused on rather than on setting up new long and costly and open-ended inquiries. That’s the focus I think that we should have.

Reporter:

Prime Minister, on a different issue. How do you respond to the criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Prime Minister:

Well, I think the Archbishop of Canterbury should be entirely free to express political views. I’ve never been one to say that the church has to fight shy of making political interventions, but what I would say is that I profoundly disagree with many of the views that he has expressed, particularly on issues like debt and on welfare and education. I don’t think it is good, I don’t think it’s right for people if we… and our country, if we give up on paying down our debts and just pass that down to our children; I don’t see anything good or even moral in that approach. I don’t think it’s good or right for us to pay people to stay on welfare, trapped in poverty, when we should be trying to get them a job. I don’t think that is good or right for people or for our country. And also when it comes to education, there’s nothing good or right allowing people to say… stay trapped in schools that often aren’t giving them a good education, whereas the academy programme that we’re driving forward is raising standards and giving people hope for a better future. I’m absolutely convinced that our policies are about actually giving people greater responsibility and greater chances in their life and I will defend those very vigorously. But of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury - quite free to make political points as he chooses and to engage in a debate, and I see also what he said about the Big Society. I would say the Big Society is an enormous opportunity, not just for the Church of England but for all religious organisations and faith groups to try and make sure they do even more of the wonderful work they do to improve the condition of people in our society. So by all means let’s have a robust debate, but I can tell you, it will always be a two-sided debate.