Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers will do nothing for the community as it faces the brunt of fiscal decisions made in Westminster which continue to devastate the region. She instead comes to the North, following the Government’s latest cabinet reshuffle, with a smile that belies her real intention — to keep public spending and welfare cuts firmly in place, according to Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland spokesperson Vernon Coaker.
“She is a new face in the North, but she will carry on the policies of the coalition Government,” Mr Coaker claimed, in an exclusive interview with The Irish Post at the Labour Party conference in Manchester. “It’s not going to change, you are not going to see Theresa Villiers calling for action the way I am to support the communities and economy in the North, because she supports the austerity programme — which hits the North as it does the rest of Britain.”
He added: “She is a supporter of it, she votes for it in Cabinet, she votes for it in the House of Commons and the people in the North must realise whatever smile she adds and however she puts it she comes supporting cuts in the North of Ireland. “Alongside all that, we have welfare changes coming in as well — they will impact on people in the North as they will with everyone in Britain and the Irish in Britain.”
Mr Coaker, who addressed the party conference on Thursday, October 4, believes the current Government have forgotten the people of the North. He suggests politicians spend too much time debating long-term issues, such as devolving fiscal powers and the framework to set its own corporation tax to the North, while its people suffer the fallout from the coalition’s austerity programme.
“While these debates rage Northern Ireland suffers as a consequence of policies being pursued by Westminster,” the MP for Gedling told us. “There will always be a debate about whether fiscal powers should be devolved, what I am saying is while that discussion takes place let’s have action now, let’s have concrete policies implemented now which tackle some of the problems communities across Northern Ireland are facing.”
He added: “We need to get on with this as a priority, as you have a Government reducing public spending and driving the economy into a double-dip recession which the North is not immune from. You have unemployment going up, with many of those out of work for more than a year, and one in four young people unemployed. No community should have that shocking statistic.” Regarding the future for the region, which is financially dependent on the British exchequer, he added: “We visit the North of Ireland every fortnight; we talk to members of all parties, business leaders and the community. We want to hear what they have to say and what they want from their next Government.
“If people make representations regarding fiscal autonomy, you have to consider it.” He explained: “You can’t just do it because someone says it, but if they ask for that it will be considered and be part of the programme we put together as we run up to the next election.” He added: “Ultimately we understand the anger and frustration of people out there, that’s across the whole island of Ireland and within the Irish community in Britain, and our message is we are offering an alternative; it does not have to be like this.”