Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 18:35 UK

NI must play role in recovery says PM David Cameron

Martin McGuinness, David Cameron and Peter Robinson
David Cameron met the first and deputy first ministers at Stormont

Northern Ireland must play its part in tackling the UK's deficit, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Mr Cameron said Northern Ireland would not be singled out for cuts, but all parts of the UK had a role to play in the economic recovery.

On his first visit to Northern Ireland since taking office, Mr Cameron met First and Deputy First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

He said he wanted to reassure people of his support for devolution.

"Let me say this to those who still want to wreck progress and peace in Northern Ireland that taking part in terror will not achieve anything apart from misery," he said.

"Our commitment to Northern Ireland, our commitment to the devolved institutions, is absolute."

The public need to be aware that the cuts presently being contemplated are simply the in-year reductions, and the major cuts are those that will come in the autumn
Peter Robinson
First minister

Mr Cameron added he was committed to "getting the economy here in Northern Ireland going".

"It is an absolutely essential task that we have a strong recovery, good growth and a strong commercial and private sector here in Northern Ireland," he said.


He said the assembly could defer cuts to the Northern Ireland budget for a year if it wanted.

Secretary of State Owen Paterson said it was not sustainable for more than 70% of Northern Ireland's gross domestic product to go into public spending.

"What we need to do, and I've suggested it will take 25 years to do this, is to steadily rebalance the economy, by bringing up the size of the private sector and steadily bringing down dependence on public spending.

Owen Paterson and David Cameron
Owen Paterson accompanied David Cameron at Stormont

"But we've said it's irresponsible to do nothing. It's equally irresponsible to do anything too drastic," he said.

Mr Robinson welcomed the prime minister's pledge that Northern Ireland could defer its share of the initial £6bn cuts, a figure which could be as high as £200m.

However, he also warned this could mean a double hit for Northern Ireland as more cuts are expected in the months ahead.

"The public need to be aware that the cuts presently being contemplated are simply the in-year reductions, and the major cuts are those that will come in the autumn," he said.

"As an administration we therefore need to take into account, if we are to defer, that it will be a deferral on top of those major cuts that we will hear about in the course of the autumn."

Mr McGuinness said: "The economic situation is obviously something that exercises all of us, even though the meeting was an introductory meeting.

"We are very conscious of the fact that... difficult times lie ahead."

As well as meeting Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, the new prime minister met the party leaders, including UUP leader Sir Reg Empey.

David Cameron at Mash Direct farm
David Cameron paid a visit to a manufacturing plant in County Down

Speaking after his meeting, Sir Reg said that it "heralded a new and positive era for the union".

Before the election, Mr Cameron had hoped that he would have MPs elected in Northern Ireland. But the failure of the partnership with the Ulster Unionists to win any seats has posed challenges.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie also met Mr Cameron. She said she raised issues such as increased devolved powers for Northern Ireland, protection of the block grant, and the publication of the Saville Report.

Ms Ritchie said that she "outlined once again why the report must be placed into the public domain without undue delay".

Meanwhile, the newly published detailed agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives reiterates the government's intention to re-examine corporation tax in Northern Ireland.

The agreement says: "We will continue to promote peace, stability and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland, standing firmly behind the agreements negotiated and institutions they establish.

"We will work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics, including producing a government paper examining potential mechanisms for changing the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland."

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