David Cameron has insisted Northern Ireland’s economic recovery is well on course ahead of a meeting with Stormont’s political leaders in London.
The Prime Minister’s positive assessment came a year on from the implementation of a Government-backed stimulus package aimed at cementing political gains made in the post-conflict era.
“It is great news that the long-term economic plan is working for Northern Ireland,” he said.
A mainstay of the package was giving the Northern Ireland Executive the ability to borrow an additional £100 million from the Treasury.
Ahead of Mr Cameron’s meeting at Downing Street with Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, the Government and Executive announced how the additional funds would be spent in the coming year.
The meeting comes as delegations from Stormont’s five executive parties resume political talks in Belfast aimed at forging an agreement on longstanding disputes over flags, parades and the legacy of the past.
Prior to the Downing Street encounter, the Government also confirmed that the long-awaited decision on whether Northern Ireland would be given the power to set its own rate of corporation tax was still on course to be made in the autumn.
The joint Government and Executive announcement on this year’s allocation of the borrowed funds included:
:: £8 million to prioritise investment in integrated primary schools at Omagh, Portadown and Corran in Larne.
:: A further £30 million to fund more development at the Lisanelly shared education campus in Omagh.
:: An additional 300 homes in a shared environment, including sites in Belfast and Newtownabbey.
:: £15 million to develop a new shared mixed tenure housing scheme.
It was also announced that the Green Investment Bank will make two separate investments of £1.5 million and £1.7 million to help increase the efficiency of the Northern Ireland agri-food sector.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also identified 106 properties in Lisburn and Holywood which could be used for shared housing in these areas subject to appropriate proposals being developed by the Executive.
The Northern Ireland economy grew by 2.6% last year.
Mr Cameron said: “In the last year output, employment and exports have increased; access to finance for small and medium sized enterprises has improved, and independent forecasters have revised up their outlook for the region. This means more financial security for hardworking people and businesses in Northern Ireland, who can be more confident about a brighter and more prosperous future.”
Mr Robinson said the update on the economic package showed the commitment of both the Executive and the Government to the shared objective of rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy.
“We have worked together to address a range of issues facing our economy and we are now starting to see clear signs that it has begun to recover,” he said.
Mr McGuinness added: “Twelve months on we can reflect on the progress made with the commitments in the Economic Pact and consider the challenges that still lie ahead. It is important we continue to work to build on the progress already made and ensure all commitments are delivered in a timely manner.”
Ms Villiers said there had been welcome progress on economic and shared future initiatives.
“There are clear signs that the Northern Ireland economy has started to turn the corner,” she said.
“The Executive has also developed a wide-ranging set of commitments to tackle community division.
“But the Government and the Executive recognise that more needs to be done. We will continue to work with the Executive to build on the progress already made, and to deliver the measures agreed in our pact last year.”