Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown the gauntlet down to Stormont ministers and insisted that they “need to deliver” on our shared future strategy.
And the Tory leader firmly rejected the accusation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that he has displayed a lack of engagement in Northern Ireland politics in recent times.
“I am fully engaged,” he stressed during a whistle-stop tour of the north coast yesterday, his first trip to Northern Ireland in more than a year.
“It is actually welcome that Northern Ireland politicians are not having regular crisis meetings with the Prime Minister.
“I think Northern Ireland politics are in a good and stable state.”
The Prime Minister referred to the speech he made to the Assembly during his trip 13 months ago in which he also demanded progress on the long-stalled blueprint to tackle sectarianism. Now with his former electoral partners the Ulster Unionists following in the footsteps of Alliance and resigning from the Stormont working group on the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) proposals, he again focused on the issue and stressed the plan must be a “shared” rather than a “shared-out” future.
“I really want to see progress on that and it is local politicians that need to deliver on that,” he said.
He pointed to ongoing problems in the province, including 85,000 empty school places and the increasing number of peace walls in the Belfast area.
Before his trip here in June 2011, it had also been more than a year since his previous visit. But Mr Cameron said he did not accept that he is “not engaged”.
“I want to see progress in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Mr Cameron defended Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s recent criticism of the Executive and underlined its core message — ‘you must do better’.
“I think it is quite right for the Secretary of State to make these sort of speeches (which criticise the Executive). We should have challenge in politics.”
On the vexed issue of corporation tax, he said: “There are difficult issues that have to be hammered out, but I am in no doubt that we need to do more to encourage the private sector and
The comments came after Finance Minster Sammy Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph last week that had “no confidence” in the ability of Mr Paterson to deliver a cut in corporation tax for Northern Ireland and instead backing a Treasury “smash and grab raid” on NI’s block grant.