David Lidington: Government is committed to making Northern Ireland a flourishing centre for investment
As I visit Northern Ireland this week, I am reminded once again of the progress that has been made since I first entered Parliament more than 25 years ago, and also of the scale of the opportunities that continue to open up here.
In my current role as Minister for the Cabinet Office, with overall government responsibility for devolution, I am again able to see that wide-ranging potential.
So today I am meeting the organisers of The Open at Royal Portrush on the Antrim coast, where this summer, for the first time in 70 years, Northern Ireland will play host to the world's oldest and most famous golf championship. With more than 200,000 people set to attend - and many millions more watching in 190 countries across the world - Northern Ireland will be at the centre of the sporting world for a weekend in July. But the potential that hosting The Open offers to the north coast and beyond in terms of the long-term economic benefits and the boost it will give to participation in the sport will be its true legacy.
And of course, just along the coast from the links course at Portrush, are the basalt columns of the Unesco-protected Giant's Causeway, which underline the importance of tourism to local communities.
As Game Of Thrones draws to a grand finale, top tourist attractions like the series filming locations are generating real benefits - around £180 million a year - to the local economy.
But so much of Northern Ireland's success and its potential comes from the power of its people. That's why I'm also visiting Belfast Metropolitan College, which is using an innovative education, employability and skills programme to build on the promise of the Belfast Region City Deal, providing opportunities for young people to be educated and gain qualifications, and training together, regardless of which community they come from.
We're also seeing personal development programmes taking off among young people. Since its inception in 2009, nearly half a million young people across the UK have taken advantage of the National Citizen Service. And today the programme is gaining popularity across Northern Ireland as young people from different traditions and different economic circumstances have the opportunity to learn from each other through outdoor education activities and volunteer work.
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For its part, the UK Government is committed to championing Northern Ireland as a trade destination with a low unemployment rate, a thriving international presence and a flourishing centre for investment. Earlier this month the Government confirmed £105 million of support for the Derry/Londonderry region and yesterday, for the first time in its 397-year history, the UK Board of Trade met in Belfast, signalling the central role of the Northern Ireland economy to our drive to bring investment and support exports from across the whole United Kingdom.
As I spend time in Northern Ireland today I am struck, as I have been on previous visits over the past few months to Derry/Londonderry, Kilrea, Newry and Belfast, that - notwithstanding the political challenges we all know need to be overcome in Stormont and in Westminster - Northern Ireland has much to build upon. The UK Government stands ready to help to deliver that positive future for all communities.
- David Lidington is Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster