The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, has made her first visit to Queen’s University since assuming her new office. At an event hosted jointly by the Conservative Future and Politics Societies in the Great Hall, the Secretary of State addressed over one hundred students and members of the public on the theme of ‘A Stronger Economy and a Shared Society’.
In a wide-ranging speech, Ms Villiers confronted a number of issues including the nature of government by coalition, the need to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy, and how to move on from recent violence linked to the decision to reduce the number of days the Union Flag is flown at City Hall. She urged the Northern Ireland Executive to demonstrate firm commitment to a shared future for everyone, adding that “a shared future can’t be imposed from London.”
Celebrating Northern Ireland’s diversity, Ms Villiers contended that “both of Northern Ireland’s two distinctive cultural identities should not be impossible in a United Kingdom which is now more ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse than at any time in our history.” She acknowledged her concern, however, that some communities still feel “left behind.”
The Secretary of State emphasised the role of young people in rebuilding the Northern Ireland economy, reminding the audience of Queen’s status as a “world-class university.” She argued that the key to both a successful economy and a shared society lies in education; that it equips young people with the skills they need to realise their potential in a competitive world.
Chairman of Conservative Future of Queen’s, Jamie Pow, thanked the Secretary of State for accepting the invitation to speak at the university, noting that “it’s not every day that we get the chance to hear in person from a member of the Cabinet and, very importantly, to ask them questions of our own. This is democracy in action.”
He also went on to thank everyone who attended the event: “I was extremely encouraged to see students not just from Queen’s, but from local schools as well. So many chose to come here in their own free time, and it is precisely that sort of attitude showing enthusiasm towards the political system that Northern Ireland can only do with more of.”
Rebecca Sheldon, President of the Politics Society, moderated a question-and-answer session following the Secretary of State’s address. She praised the “confidence and eloquence of our audience in sharing their views,” adding, “I want to thank the members of our audience from all political persuasions who asked superb questions so respectfully, and of course the Secretary of State herself for offering such comprehensive and engaging responses.
“Finally, we would like to thank Queen’s University and its dedicated events staff for making the evening possible. They, along with our guest speaker and audience, helped make the night such a success.”