G8 can be a watershed for a new-look Northern Ireland
The summit at Lough Erne showed that the province is stunningly beautiful, open for business and that its best days really do lie ahead, writes Theresa Villiers
Published 21/06/2013 | 04:20
During the last few days, the world has seen the very best of Northern Ireland. Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for a G8 summit to be held in Co Fermanagh.
The prime minister's personal decision to bring the leaders here is testament to the huge achievements the political settlement has delivered. Northern Ireland demonstrated just how far it has moved forward.
Lough Erne's scenic beauty provided a truly inspirational setting for the G8 leaders to discuss some of the most important issues facing the modern world.
I know from talking to the G8 leaders and also to a number of journalists just how taken aback they were by the stunning Fermanagh countryside, which provided the backdrop to the summit.
We can now look back at one of the smoothest and safest G8 summits in memory. But the lack of any serious public order incidents did not come about by chance.
This would not have happened without the excellent preparations put in place by the PSNI and its partners. I want to thank them for the fantastic job they have done in ensuring the summit was both secure and peaceful.
In my previous role as transport minister, I was heavily involved with the Olympics and it is great that, once again, the UK has demonstrated its ability to successfully host events of real global significance.
I also want to pay tribute to Enniskillen's wonderfully hospitable people, who patiently put up with the disruption that delivering an event of this scale inevitably brings.
Many local people went out of their way to accommodate both the police and the visitors linked to the summit.
I'm told that even the protesters felt they received a typically warm Ulster welcome.
Now that the show has left town and life gets back to normal, people will inevitably ask, 'What next?' I will be working with colleagues in Westminster and Stormont to seek a long-term legacy for the people of Northern Ireland; to maximise the opportunity the summit has generated to stimulate more inward investment, create new jobs and attract more tourists.
The package that the prime minister and I unveiled with the First and Deputy First Ministers last Friday is designed with that in mind.
It contains a number of substantial initiatives to help equip Northern Ireland to compete in the global race – not least of which is a proposed pilot scheme to allow visitors to enter Northern Ireland using an Irish visa to boost tourism in places like Fermanagh.
That package also complements the work announced by the First and Deputy First Ministers on building the kind of shared future that teenager Hanna Nelson spoke so movingly about at the Waterfront Hall on Monday.
Many people around the world probably still have a view of Northern Ireland which is rooted in its troubled past. I hope the success of the G8 summit will have helped to change that.
Northern Ireland is in the news for good reasons. It has shown the world that it's stunningly beautiful, that it is open for business and that its best days really lie ahead.
This has been a priceless opportunity to show what the new Northern Ireland has to offer.
As we head into the height of the marching season, it is important for all of us to build on the success of recent days.
We need to encourage everyone involved in, or affected by, forthcoming parades to seek a peaceful way forward that enables different traditions to be celebrated in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.
Theresa Villiers MP is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland