Peter Robinson: Northern Ireland must be ‘genuinely shared society’

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

Northern Ireland’s future should include a genuinely shared society cemented by greater prosperity, the First Minister said.

Dramatically boosted tourism levels, new enterprise zones coupled with the slashing of business red tape will help fulfil the region’s economic potential and lay the foundations for real peace, Peter Robinson added.

The UK Government is to provide up to an additional £50 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16 in borrowing powers as part of a wide-ranging pact with the Executive to boost private business.

Mr Robinson told the Assembly: “The economic and social pact that was unveiled by the Prime Minister in recent days is a potent symbol of the Executive’s vision.

“Under its custodianship and direction the Northern Ireland of the future will be a genuinely shared society, able to fulfil its real economic potential and lay permanent foundations for continued peace, stability and prosperity.

“The script has been written. Now the words must be translated into action.”

The economic package, Building a Prosperous and United Community, was announced by David Cameron, Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on 14 June.

It contained a range of measures to help rebalance the economy and Mr Robinson said it was designed to secure a shared future for everyone.

“Good relations across all parts of our community are an essential ingredient of building a prosperous, peaceful and safe society which is enriched by diversity and is welcoming to all,” he said.

“Specifically, tackling the twin blights of sectarianism and racism in addition to other forms of intolerance is essential in shaping a shared and cohesive society equipped to face the challenges of an ever-changing world.”

He added: “The Executive’s vision is of a united community, based on equality of opportunity, the desirability of good relations and reconciliation.

“A community strengthened by its diversity, in which cultural expression is celebrated and embraced and in which everyone can live, learn, work and socialise, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance.”

Mr Robinson has been criticised by Catholic Bishop Donal McKeown, who claimed the DUP leader had implied the Church was blocking moves on integrated education.

The cleric alleged the DUP’s stance was perceived as “nakedly sectarian” by the Catholic community.

Mr Robinson responded that the bishop had “lost the plot”.

Executive measures aimed at building a shared future include eliminating all peace walls within a decade, 10,000 United Youth Programme cross-community placements for young people, building 10 shared educational campuses in five years and 10 shared neighbourhood developments.

Today the First Minister also pledged the Executive would continue to push for the power to set the corporation tax level to help stimulate economic growth, due to be decided following next year’s referendum on Scottish independence.

“Devolution of this power would allow the Executive to meet its shared objective of rebalancing the local economy more quickly than if it was reliant on those policy levers currently available alongside those outlined in the package,” Mr Robinson added.

He said ministers want to make tourism a £1 billion industry by 2020, lauding proposals to further develop visa waiver arrangements between the UK and Ireland to make it easier for holidaymakers and businessmen from overseas to visit.

The Executive can propose enterprise zones to the Government by October and Downing Street has pledged to support it in reviewing business red tape. It backed the Executive’s new process for expediting significant planning applications and agreed to examine how the potential of Belfast Port might be unlocked.

There were also measures to use surplus Ministry of Defence sites and other assets in Northern Ireland.