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We are putting the pieces in place to rid NI of terrorist thugs and build a stronger, wealthier society

By Theresa Villiers

Published 21/05/2016

A young boy runs past a paramilitary mural in east Belfast
A young boy runs past a paramilitary mural in east Belfast

On Wednesday the new session of Parliament was opened with a one-nation Queen's speech from a progressive, one-nation, Conservative Government.

It will take forward the programme on which we were elected just over a year ago. At its core are measures to deliver security for working people, improve life chances for the most disadvantaged and strengthen our country's security.

All of this is as relevant to people living in Northern Ireland as it is to all other parts of the United Kingdom. In the Queen's Speech, 15 of the 22 Bills extend in whole or in part to Northern Ireland.

As we set out in our manifesto last year, we want to provide security for people at every stage of their lives. But we know we can only do this if we keep a strong economy.

As a result of the difficult decisions we have had to take, and the hard work of people across the whole of the UK, we are delivering a stronger economy.

Figures for Northern Ireland this week show employment up, while the numbers claiming unemployment benefits are down by more than 40% from their peak. There are also 51,000 more people in work than in 2010.

The deficit has been cut by nearly two-thirds, helping to keep interest and mortgage rates low. 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.

That agreement also provides some £350m for infrastructure spending to support economic growth.

In the Queen's Speech we announced measures to help make our country more competitive. The Digital Economy Bill, for example, will help deliver the world-class digital infrastructure that we need to compete.

We are committed to improving life chances for the most disadvantaged in society and to lifting barriers to opportunity.

We have already raised income tax thresholds, cutting tax for more than 700,000 and taking over 100,000 out of tax altogether.

A key aim of our welfare reforms is to reduce dependency and help people into work.

The additional £2.5bn of spending power for the Executive in the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements includes support for initiatives to build a shared and stronger society, such as in housing and education.

An important element of the work on tackling paramilitary activity through the Fresh Start Agreement is aimed at improving life chances for people in the communities held back by the malign influence of these groupings.

Improving life chances is at the core of the Queen's Speech. While some of the measures announced concerned devolved matters and don't apply within Northern Ireland, others will have a direct impact.

The Lifetime Savings Bill applies across the whole of the UK and aims to help young people and those on lower incomes to save.

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 saw during the last Parliament.

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.

Under this Government there will be no let-up in our efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds.

This was a Queen's Speech as much for Northern Ireland as the rest of the United Kingdom.

Under the strong leadership of the Prime Minister we will continue to deliver our manifesto commitments and govern in the interests of the whole community.

Belfast Telegraph

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