Marking six months since the new Executive was formed.
Day by day, slowly but surely, politics here is changing. And it’s for the better. The focus is increasingly now on policies and delivery - on finding the best ways to make people’s lives better.
The seeds of this change can be found in the Fresh Start Agreement a year ago and the Assembly election some six months later. Our two parties - along with Claire Sugden as Justice Minister – are now in an Executive facing in the same direction.
We made promises to voters that we will keep – taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions.
Others decided to duck the challenges and retreat to the Opposition benches. That is a matter for them.
We are getting on with the work. It’s not always easy or straightforward. Our public spending allocation from London has been reduced so we won’t have the funding to do everything we want. There will undoubtedly be some difficult choices ahead. Coalition government is a challenge in itself.
It’s hardly a secret that our two parties come from very different places and have very different ideologies. However, that should not and will not stop us working together on day-to-day bread and butter issues.
Brexit is a case in point. Our parties have opposing standpoints on this important issue. That hasn’t prevented us agreeing a practical way forward as Executive ministers – identifying the key priorities as the negotiations unfold. Our parties will continue to stand up for their core beliefs where necessary - in private and public. This does not mean filling the airwaves with endless squabbles, making the Assembly a by-word for division. It’s vital for the peace process that politics can move on. It’s also essential for the people we represent.
We firmly believe that a devolved Executive, with Ministers working together effectively and collectively, is in the public interest. Imagine if we had followed the example of others and decided the challenges of Government were just too daunting. That would have opened the door to years of direct rule - Conservative Ministers ruling over us without a mandate.
Rest assured this Executive is not going to abandon you to that. We are in this for the long haul.
There is much more to do, but we are proud of the achievements to date. Despite the pressure on budgets, we have found extra money to invest in key frontline services.
The full Executive has thrown its weight behind radical reforms to transform health and social care, designed to make it truly world class.
This 10-year vision will finally tackle the underlying causes of the problems plaguing our health service – like waiting lists, staff shortages and GP pressures.
Since May, the Executive has also agreed to block the introduction of household water charges for another five years. Direct rule Ministers, it should be remembered, were poised to impose these charges as long ago as 2007.
No effort is being spared to grow our economy and create new and better jobs. Our inward investment achievements are already the envy of other regions and there are now plans to expand Invest Northern Ireland’s locations around the world.
We are also building on our action plan to tackle paramilitarism, working alongside law enforcement agencies to end this scourge.
In another significant achievement, we have put in place a £500m welfare reform mitigation package to protect vulnerable people. Based on the advice of renowned social security expert Professor Eileen Evason, this package will shield households from measures like the bedroom tax.
The Executive has also issued an ambitious Programme for Government – with the focus firmly on outcomes that make a real difference. The public consultation – now in its second phase – has produced a record response, with respondents overwhelmingly positive on the new approach we are taking.
We are also pushing ahead with major infrastructure projects, not least for our roads network.
Delivery can be seen too in smaller scale announcements across all walks of life – with funding released for local sports, welfare advice, farm improvement schemes, town centre improvements, libraries, coastal communities, and an innovative new stimulus package.
We know only too well these are fast-moving, uncertain and sometimes troubling times around the world. But there is much to be positive about at home. Unemployment has been falling steadily. Tourism spending has been on the increase. And there are major investment opportunities to be pursued. That’s why we will shortly travel to China to meet political leaders, forge new relationships and promote our economy and tourism.
This is what delivery looks like. No gimmicks. No grandstanding. Just Ministers getting on with the work.
Notes to editors:
- Media enquiries to The Executive Office press office on 028 9037 8201. Out of office hours, please contact the duty press office via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned.
- Follow us on Twitter @niexecutive.
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- Covid-19 press conference - 2 April 2020 02 April 2020