[Unallotted Half Day] — Changing Perceptions of Northern Ireland

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 7th March 2012.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 4:27 pm, 7th March 2012

He certainly travelled around Northern Ireland and he tended sheep in Slemish. That was clear from the historical talk that I heard last Friday. There is 7,000 years of history in County Down. Any history buff could not help but be enthralled by the preservation of days gone by in relation to St Patrick that is so evident in the area that I, my hon. Friend Ian Paisley and other hon. Members represent.

The film industry in Northern Ireland is moving forward by leaps and bounds. More companies than ever are coming to Northern Ireland to take advantage of the opportunities for the film industry. Northern Ireland is quickly becoming a centre for the film industry in the UK and Europe.

We are looking forward to the celebrations of signing the Ulster covenant 100 years ago. Every council in Northern Ireland is arranging a special event to commemorate signing the covenant, which was first step on the road to the creation of Northern Ireland. There are not many people in Northern Ireland who do not have a relative who signed the covenant—indeed, one of my constituents, an elderly lady called Mrs Simpson, whom I had helped with a few constituency issues, came in one day and said, “Jim, there’s my grandfather’s covenant.” It had pride of place, but she said, “You take that, because I know that you will appreciate it.” That now has pride of place in my home.

The Somme centre is on the edge of my constituency, which borders North Down. It preserves the memory and recalls the efforts of the Ulster Division in the first world war. It is an excellent venue that now attracts more people than ever. We have a wealth of history and a wealth of attractions. Clearly, tourism must be the way to take that forward. Celebrations this year will attract many visitors on 28 September. I hope that the re-enactments that are planned will draw those who have come to the UK for the Olympics.

Our little country with the big heart has a definite place in the 2012 Olympics and I want to ensure that we step up to the mark and claim our rightful place as an integral part of the UK, and a jewel in the crown of great British attractions. I believe that we can and must do that. We have world-class athletes who are already drawing attention to Northern Ireland in Olympic circles. It is no secret—other hon. Members have mentioned it—that we excel in boxing and shooting in Northern Ireland. That does not mean that we are violent people. It just means that we are good at certain sports, and those happen to be two of them. We bring medals home from Commonwealth games and Olympic games. Two members of the Comber rifle club in my constituency have consistently won gold and silver medals at the Olympic games and the Commonwealth games. We have an opportunity this time to hold some of the training camps for those who are going to the Olympics in the Province. No. 1 world golfer Rory McIlroy is proud to wave his Ulster flag at his victories, and that has already created great media attention. We also have great facilities to offer people who travel to the UK.

The first main event on our calendar this year is the Queen’s jubilee. It is set to become some event, with the councils in my area preparing themselves for a record number of street parties and events as we celebrate 60 years of our sovereign’s reign over us. It is good to have SDLP Members making a contribution to the debate; it is a pity that they could not do so when we discussed the humble address, as they were standing guard outside the door.

Our Queen has provided stability and continuity through changing Governments, changing ideals and a changing world. She has selflessly given of herself, with a diligence that is difficult to match, and she has maintained a quiet dignity through the journey of life in the public eye. She has given 60 years of dedicated service to our nation and is the epitome of a great lady—she exemplifies the best of British: kind, industrious, wise and respectful. Other members of the royal family are taking that tradition over. We notice from the news today that Prince Harry has become the fastest man in the world. According to the news, it is official that Usain Bolt was in second place in that sprint.

People will fly their flags with pride while bonding as communities to celebrate the reign of our Queen. That will happen in many places across the Province. If the high level of interest in and excitement at Prince William and Kate’s wedding last year are anything to go by—I am talking about the whole community across the whole of Northern Ireland—no one will want to miss the Queen’s jubilee.

Northern Ireland is moving forward in a way that no one could have foreseen 10 years ago. Even I could not have foreseen the progress that we have made, but I and the Democratic Unionist party are pleased with that progress. We are moving forward in leaps and bounds to deliver something for everyone, including the young boys and girls who have yet to grow up and get jobs.

It is time for us to take our place on the world tourism stage and to allow others to see, enjoy and be involved in everything that we have to offer—great lodgings, fantastic scenery, wonderful shopping, world-class golf and, indeed, world-class golfers, salons, and most importantly, that unique Northern Ireland hospitality that beckons people in and makes them feel part of the family. A holiday in Northern Ireland will refresh and renew. This year, it will give people a rich insight into our vast culture and heritage, of which we are so proud. One visit, and their opinion will be set for ever. Northern Ireland is the place to come this year and every year.