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£2.5bn package will help free people from grip of gangs, pledges Villiers

By Noel McAdam

Published 21/05/2016

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

The "malign influence" of paramilitary groups in local communities is to be tackled - freeing people from their terrorist grip, according to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, Mrs Villiers said the initiative would help improve "the life chances" of people held back by loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

She also said Westminster's additional £2.5bn of spending power for the Executive - part of the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements - would include support for initiatives "to build a shared and stronger society", such as housing and education.

She declined, however, to comment on any government concerns over the fragmentation of the Stormont Executive, with two of the five main parties now going into opposition.

Mrs Villiers has set a deadline of Wednesday and warned she could trigger fresh elections if a justice minister is not appointed.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have previously vetoed the other taking the politically sensitive justice portfolio, instead relying on the cross-community Alliance Party to fill the post.

However, Alliance leader David Ford told his party's ruling body on Thursday he could not recommend retaking justice without a number of key issues being tackled, including the controversial petition of concern mechanism which both the DUP and SF have previously used to block legislation.

It is understood Mrs Villiers is due to be in Belfast on Monday, but a spokesman said no meetings with the Stormont parties have been organised so far. Her article today, however, focuses on this week's Queen's Speech in Parliament.

"In Northern Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, our first duty is to do everything possible to keep people safe and secure. Measures in the Queen's Speech on defence spending and maintaining our nuclear deterrent will help us to do that.

"We all know, however, that the most immediate security threat in Northern Ireland comes from dissident republicans. So we have provided additional security funding for the PSNI of £160m, on top of the £231m in the last Parliament," she said.

"The Criminal Assets Bill will strengthen the ability of the police to seize the proceeds of crime. And the Investigatory Powers Bill will ensure that law enforcement agencies retain the tools they need to protect the public in the digital age," she added.

Mrs Villiers also cited:

  • 51,000 more jobs than in 2010, and
  • £350m for infrastructure spending to support economic growth.

She pledged: "We are backing business, the wealth creators in our society, by cutting corporation tax, and we will devolve corporation tax powers to the Assembly, once the conditions on financial sustainability in the Stormont House Agreement are met."

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