Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Tentative grounds to be optimistic at revival of economy

Theresa Villiers is determined to leave a positive G8 legacy

Last week's better than expected figures showed the UK economy growing for the second quarter in a row. The UK has held its nerve, the Government is sticking to the plan it set out in 2010 and the economy is now on the mend.

We all know that there's a long way to go before we recover fully from the effects of the economic crash. Things are still very tough for many families right across the UK.

So the Government will not let up in its determination to put right what went wrong in our economy under Labour. And unlike the unbalanced economy we inherited, we want to make sure that everyone benefits from this recovery.

As a result of the difficult decisions we've taken, the record deficit Labour left us is down by a third. Across the UK the private sector has created 1.3 million new jobs in three years. We've cut income tax for 25 million people.

In Northern Ireland, too, there are some tentative grounds for optimism. Unemployment is still too high but we've just had the biggest monthly fall for 11 years. Northern Ireland firms have seen an overall increase in new orders for the first time since 2007.

Figures released last week also showed that Northern Ireland is one of the most successful regions of the UK and Europe in attracting foreign investment. The G8 Summit in Fermanagh in June highlighted to the world what a great place Northern Ireland is to visit and to do business.

In June, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive launched our new economic package. The aim is to boost the private sector and further enable Northern Ireland to compete in the global race for investment and jobs. The package has been widely welcomed. In October, the Executive will host a G8 themed investment conference which the Prime Minister will attend. He and I are both determined that the successful G8 will leave a positive economic legacy for Northern Ireland and this conference will be part of that.

So as we look ahead there are real reasons to be positive about what has been happening in Northern Ireland in recent months, not least of which is the programme of measures announced by the First and deputy First Minister on building trust between different parts of the community and addressing sectarian divisions.

But events since the Twelfth weekend have confirmed once again the damaging impact community division can have in causing tension and disorder.

Violent protest undermines Northern Ireland's reputation, both in the rest of the UK and further afield. It deters the kind of investment and job opportunities that parts of the community here say they lack. For those who take part in rioting there is the real prospect of prison, with inevitable consequences for their future prospects. And money spent policing riots is money that won't be spent on community policing, or hospitals or schools or any of the other priorities for Northern Ireland and its Executive.

That's why anyone encouraging large numbers of people on to the streets needs to reflect very carefully on their actions. Everyone has the right to protest, but only so long as those protests are both peaceful and lawful. There can be no justification for violence and attacks on the police.

The Government strongly supports the initiative of the First and deputy First Ministers in setting up the All-Party Group to look at issues like parades and flags. We wish it every success under the distinguished chairmanship of Richard Haass.

It's vital that we make real progress so that the kind of scenes we've witnessed in recent weeks can be firmly consigned to history. We need to continue showing the world the very best of Northern Ireland.

Just when there are signs that the economy is starting to recover, it would be a tragedy if Northern Ireland were held back by the violent actions of a few.

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