I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 24, inclusive, together.
When I last addressed the House on Northern Ireland, I indicated that the focus of political leadership in Northern Ireland needed to be on maintaining and creating jobs through economic recovery and building a shared future. These were the principal themes of my bilateral meeting with the British Prime Minister in March and in the discussions I held with President Obama and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Washington. Since then, I am pleased to report that there has been very welcome progress in the North in the form of the publication of the “Together: Building a United Community” strategy for good relations and, more recently, the “Building a Prosperous and United Community” economic package agreed between the British Government and the Northern Executive's First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Taken together, these proposals seek to develop the twin and integrated strategies of promoting a stronger private sector and building a more cohesive, shared society.
Work such as this is important in delivering the forward-looking, prosperous and reconciled society we all wish to see in Northern Ireland. While the agreed economic package is primarily a matter between the British Government and the Northern Executive, I welcome the additional economic development and jobs that this package will bring to Northern Ireland. It is a very strong message that Northern Ireland is open for business. I again take this opportunity to congratulate the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on their achievement for all the people of Northern Ireland.
As regards the peace process, I believe the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron’s, decision to hold the G8 summit in Fermanagh was vindicated. It provided a unique opportunity for us all, but most especially for the political leaders in Northern Ireland, to show to the world the progress being made there and to demonstrate that the peace process can have real and tangible benefits for the people of Northern Ireland and more widely across these islands.
During my time at the G8 summit in Lough Erne, I had the opportunity to speak directly with the US President, Mr. Obama, and commend him on his speech on the Monday morning to young people in Belfast and on his strong personal commitment to Ireland, North and South. My Government will continue to support the Executive and political leadership in Northern Ireland in whatever way it can to achieve our shared objectives of peace and economic prosperity.
I have already updated the House on my bilateral meeting in London with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, and the key actions that are being jointly taken to develop further economic co-operation between the UK and Ireland and on the island of Ireland within this wider context. There continues to be valuable progress in co-operation through the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, and the North-South implementation bodies. The institutional framework of the NSMC is robust and works well. My Government is committed to working for greater cross-Border economic co-operation to accelerate the process of recovery and the creation of jobs on the island.
All members of the Government avail of all opportunities, including meetings within the framework of the NSMC, to have constructive engagement with Northern Ministers on matters of mutual economic interest and to advance initiatives designed to boost economic activity on the island. Ministers are committed to practical co-operation in providing services. Each of the North-South bodies operates on an all-island basis under the overall policy direction of the NSMC.
Tourism Ireland and InterTradeIreland have a particularly significant role to play in the economic recovery of the island. Tourism is especially important, North and South, and the Government is working closely with the Executive to ensure that the sector's potential is fulfilled, maximising the benefits of initiatives, including the Derry City of Culture and The Gathering. Tourism Ireland is a very good example of how an all-island approach can reap dividends. InterTradeIreland provides incentives for companies to compete on a North-South basis, encouraging linkages in areas of shared interest and seeking to foster a new culture of innovation and research excellence throughout the island. With the focus on promoting jobs and growth, there is a special need to maximise co-operation and participation in current and forthcoming EU framework programmes for research and technological development. It has been shown that when institutions from the North and South come together, the chances of accessing funding are significantly increased. InterTradeIreland has introduced two new programmes - Challenge and Elevate - that support SMEs and micro-businesses to grow and develop through innovation and exporting against difficult market conditions in both jurisdictions.
Our Presidency of the Council of the European Union has been helpful in showcasing the benefits of improved co-operation. Executive Ministers have shown considerable interest in the Presidency, and our Ministers have briefed their Northern counterparts on the Presidency priorities in their sectors and invited them to participate in relevant Presidency events.
I look forward to the next plenary meeting of the NSMC on 5 July. It will be an opportunity to make further progress in this important area. While the agenda remains to be finalised, I expect that we will take the opportunity to review Ireland's Presidency, the progress made on key issues of mutual interest and North-South economic co-operation.
The Government's position remains in favour of an independent public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane, in line with the all-party view in this House. The work undertaken by Mr. de Silva, QC, can facilitate this by helping to ensure that an independent public inquiry need not be lengthy, open-ended and inordinately expensive. In my contacts with Mr. Cameron following publication of the de Silva report, I made clear that the Irish Government will continue to seek an independent public inquiry. The Tánaiste has conveyed this message in his contacts with the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Villiers, and will continue to make it clear that full implementation of the Weston Park agreement remains a moral and political imperative for the Government.
Officials from my Department have recently met the Justice for the Forgotten group and representatives of the Ballymurphy families, and I hope to meet both of these groups shortly.
I have already updated the House on my visit to Washington in March and my joint meeting with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness. This series of engagements has continued more recently, with the Tánaiste meeting both Ministers in Belfast on 26 April. I had the opportunity to meet them briefly at the G8 summit.
I attended the twentieth summit meeting of the British-Irish Council in Derry on Friday last, which was jointly chaired by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The council received a presentation from Ms Shona McCarthy, chief executive officer of the Derry-Londonderry Culture Company 2013. The presentation highlighted the benefits to the north west arising from Derry's selection as the first UK city of culture, and its aim to act as a catalyst for building the economy of the region and delivering a lasting legacy for the people of the city and surrounding area. The British-Irish Council also discussed the current economic situation in the different member administrations, with particular focus on the creative industries sector, energy costs and youth unemployment. Relevant papers are prepared for the council by the permanent secretariat, which is based in Scotland. The next council meeting is scheduled to take place in Jersey on 15 November.
Mr. Cameron and I have not spoken about any discussions at Westminster in regard to Ireland's tax arrangement, nor did we discuss the subject of integrated education at our most recent meeting. I did not discuss Great Britain's role in the European Union with the Prime Minister at these meetings.