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Stormont urged to move on by Paterson

By Tom Moseley

The Stormont Assembly risks losing public credibility unless it moves beyond the peace process, the Northern Ireland Secretary will warn tomorrow.

Addressing the Conservative Party Conference, Owen Paterson will tell the First and Deputy First Minister they have “no excuses” not to deliver, having been handed a four-year mandate and a stable political backdrop.

Mr Paterson will take to the stage tomorrow afternoon as the conference begins in Manchester. Also addressing delegates, under the banner, ‘A United Kingdom’, will be Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and Scotland Office Minister David Mundell.

Mr Paterson will praise the political progress made in Northern Ireland, saying the recent Assembly elections were more amicable than May’s referendum on changing the voting system.

But a central theme of his address will be the need to progress beyond the politics of the peace process, saying the Assembly will come under “intense public scrutiny” over whether it can produce results beyond political stability.

Citing the completed term as a sign of progress, Mr Paterson is expected to warn that “survival and stability cannot be ends in themselves.”

He will refer directly to the Shared Future strategy, echoing Prime Minister David Cameron’s calls for a “genuinely shared future”, and point out that the number of peace walls has increased and high percentages of segregated public housing and children who are educated separately to underline the work still to be done, pointing out that according to one study, segregation is costing Northern Ireland’s beleaguered economy £1.5bn.

He is expected to say there is “an enormous challenge here for the Executive but also an enormous incentive,” welcoming attempts to tackle Northern Ireland’s 85,000 empty school places and pledging to support Stormont in devolved matters.

Alongside the central message to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Secretary of State is expected to reiterate his support for Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, “based on consent”. He will welcome the chancellor’s intervention on Air Passenger Duty last week, and press the case for devolution of corporation tax.

His address comes after the Shadow Secretary of State, Labour’s Shaun Woodward, used his conference speech to attack the corporation tax plans, branding it a “huge gamble” that could “make a bad situation worse”.

Mr Woodward also attacked the Coalition Government over delays to the decision on whether to hold an inquiry into Pat Finucane’s death – prompting Tories to point out that the Labour government had failed to act on the matter during its 13-year reign.

The conference opens at 2pm in Manchester with an address by Tory co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi. David Cameron addresses delegates on Wednesday afternoon.

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