After yesterday’s Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in Downing Street, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in Northern Ireland today. The Belfast Telegraph has an article on NI by the Conservative Party leader. And his address to the NI Assembly is here.
Some sections worth highlighting – for the benefit of certain members of the Northern Ireland Executive…
Whether you serve here as a Minister, a member of a committee or as a backbench member, all of you carry the responsibility over the next four years of delivering real improvements to people’s lives.
Politics here is now more stable than for over a generation.
But as the institutions mature people will look for more than survival; there is now an ever greater expectation of delivery.
As in other parts of the UK, political institutions need to deliver or they will lose popular support.
So to match expectations, politics here will need to move beyond the peace process and a focus on narrow constitutional matters to the economic and social issues that affect people in their daily lives.
It doesn’t matter if people are from Coleraine or Cardiff, Birmingham or Ballymena, Arboath or Antrim…
…they all want the same things in life: the self-confidence that comes with work; the security that comes from safe streets, free from anti-social behaviour; the happiness and joy that comes from a stable home life.
And against a background of greater political stability there is a greater opportunity than ever before to put normal, mainstream politics first.
But if politics is about anything, it’s about public service on behalf of the whole community, not just those who vote for us.
And a crucial area where I believe we need to move beyond the peace process is in tackling the causes of division within society here.
Given the history of Northern Ireland I don’t for a minute underestimate the scale of the challenge.
But it is a depressing fact that since the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement the number of so-called ‘peace walls’ has increased from 37 to 48.
And it is disappointing that in too many places Protestant and Catholic communities remain largely segregated, sharing the same space but living their lives apart.
According to one survey the costs of division through the duplication of public services alone is around £1.5 billion a year.
But this not just about the economic cost, it’s about the social cost too.
It’s these divisions that help to sustain terrorism and other criminal activities particularly within deprived communities.
I acknowledge the work that the previous executive began on this through the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy, and welcome the fact that the new executive is committed to taking it forward.
Clearly, more needs to be done.
Most of the responsibilities for this, such as community relations policy, are devolved.
We will support you in whatever ways we can.
But this is something that’s mainly in your hands.
I am clear, though, that we cannot have a future in which everything in Northern Ireland is shared out on sectarian grounds.
Northern Ireland needs a genuinely shared future; not a shared out future.
And also this
Neither I nor Owen Paterson have any desire to interfere in those matters that are rightly run by locally accountable politicians.
They are for you to decide according to your priorities.
The same applies to the future of the institutions here and how they might evolve.
The Government’s view is that, over time, we would like to see a more normal system, with a government and opposition, consistent with power-sharing and inclusiveness.
We agree with Bertie Ahern who said in 2008:
‘there will come a time when people say “you need an opposition, you need us and them”’.
But as I made clear at the General Election, we will make no changes without the agreement of the parties in this Assembly.