HC Deb 15 July 1998 vol 316 cc393-4
2. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

What discussions she has had concerning proposals for new inward investment into Northern Ireland. [49019]

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

Interest in investing in Northern Ireland remains strong, and the Industrial Development Board continues to identify and track opportunities for foreign investment and cultivate positive relationships with prospective investors. I met the US Secretary of Commerce, William Daley, during his recent visit to Northern Ireland. He was accompanied by senior executives of major US companies, all of whom expressed an interest in Northern Ireland as an excellent place in which to invest.

Mr. Evans

I asked for some figures from the Library, which indicate that, over the past 10 years, inward investment in Northern Ireland has been relatively low compared to that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that the recently signed agreement has given fresh impetus to inward investment in Northern Ireland; but that the incidents of the past two weeks, including the tragic deaths of three young children, have set back that potential investment? What lessons have been learnt from the events of the past two weeks, so that such tragic incidents will not be repeated next year?

Mr. Ingram

First, I agree that the Good Friday agreement did give us a tremendous platform on which to build. I also agree that events in recent days and over the past two weeks have certainly damaged Northern Ireland internationally. I say to those who continue to campaign at Drumcree and to those who give them support, either by words or by deeds, that they are damaging the prospects for economic growth in Northern Ireland. I have received information today from a company with which I was in close contact and which was hoping to invest in Northern Ireland; it is now thinking of not doing so because of recent events. I hope that everyone in Northern Ireland—but, more important, those who are causing the mayhem and violence on the streets—hears that.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Has it not always been the case that religious and political sectarianism in Northern Ireland undermines the possibility of getting the sort of inward investment that is so essential to Northern Ireland? Do not the terrible and tragic events of the past week, including the burning to death of three innocent young children, demonstrate, once again, where religious and political sectarianism is bound to lead? Such terrible crimes as the killing of three children should be a lesson to all those in Northern Ireland, that sectarianism should be undermined in every way and that both communities should be able to live together, as has been demonstrated by the Good Friday agreement and the election following the agreement.

Mr. Ingram

I agree entirely with those sentiments. To those who are trying to imply that the tragic death of those three young children was not sectarian based, but was somehow linked to other events not associated with Drumcree, I say that that is not the view of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Nor is it the view of the officer carrying out the investigation into those deaths, who has made it very clear that they were sectarian based. Let us hope that they are the last three deaths to occur because of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Everyone who is associated with Northern Ireland should take that message to those over whom they have influence.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

My colleagues and I join others in condemning recent acts of violence, including the murder of three young children at Ballymoney. Our hearts go out to the family of those children and our prayers are with them.

The Minister will be aware that there have been two recent bomb incidents in Northern Ireland and that the shadow of terrorism still casts itself over the economy of Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that until terrorism is removed from society in Northern Ireland and those who are still intent on the use of terrorism to advance their political agenda have been removed from the equation, the full potential of the economy cannot be developed?

Mr. Ingram

The one very clear answer to that question is that everyone—politicians and public alike—should get behind the Good Friday agreement. It was through that agreement that the people of Northern Ireland expressed what future they wanted for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider that matter and now to get behind the agreement, as the majority of people have done.

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