HC Deb 15 July 1998 vol 316 cc398-400
5. Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

If she will make a statement on Government proposals to assist economic development in Northern Ireland. [49022]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

We will continue to assist Northern Ireland-based companies to grow through improved international competitiveness, thus expanding the local economy. In addition to the existing comprehensive range of support measures, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced an economic regeneration package aimed at promoting enterprise, encouraging investment and improving employment opportunities throughout Northern Ireland. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a further £1.4 billion package of measures, which will greatly assist the economic development of Northern Ireland

Mr. Browne

Can my hon. Friend give the House an estimate of the overall cost to the economy of Northern Ireland of the lawlessness at Drumcree and the related disturbance and violence across Northern Ireland over the past 10 days? Can he quantify the impact that that will have on the progress that has been made towards development and especially jobs in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ingram

It is too early to say what the cost of the present Drumcree situation is. In 1995, the cost of events at Drumcree was nearly £1 million, in 1996 more than £2 million, and in 1997 £680,000. The cost of the policing of the Harryville demonstration was £2 million. The real cost, however, is not in money, but in human lives and misery. We now have a different way forward. I referred earlier to the economic packages that we are putting in place to create a new economic future for Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement provides the best framework for taking forward the social and economic development of the Province.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Yesterday's announcement by Chancellor Brown of future public spending will be welcomed in Northern Ireland, especially as new projects start and jobs are created. Does the Minister agree that when that money is in place, those who are unemployed must take the opportunity to participate as opportunities arise through the new deal? If they do that and match the commitment of employers in Northern Ireland, the Government's efforts to help our economy and to help people to help themselves will succeed.

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman could help me to do my job—trying to promote Northern Ireland's economy—by backing the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Beggs


Mr. Ingram

The more unity—[Interruption.] The more unity there is in Northern Ireland, the more we can leave the violence of the past 30 years behind us. That is what the Government have sought to do for the last year, by introducing a number of economic packages. I have campaigned in America, Japan and Taiwan to bring jobs to Northern Ireland; I now seek support, at all levels, for our attempts to give Northern Ireland peace, economic prosperity and a better future.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

My hon. Friend mentioned bringing jobs to Northern Ireland from America. Has he recently received a communication from Mr. Hevesi, the New York city comptroller? As my hon. Friend will know, Mr. Hevesi is in charge of the New York city employees' pension fund, which I think now stands at about $60 billion. I am given to understand that he and his colleagues are interested in investment in Northern Ireland, especially following the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Ingram

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a letter to that effect. I met Mr. Hevesi when I was last in New York, and we began to discuss some of the possibilities for economic prosperity offered by the investment trust. It is clear that the people of New York feel good will in regard to the Good Friday agreement, and I hope that we can build on that in the months and years ahead.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

Is the Minister aware that the aforesaid gentleman—the comptroller of New York city—has been waving his promises, and his wallet, at Northern Ireland for many years without ever putting his money where his mouth is?

Mr. Ingram

It is just as well that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not trying to attract inward investment. While we have been trying to build a better economic framework in Northern Ireland, others have been trying to destroy the very base on which we are attempting to create economic prosperity.