Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at Bush Primary School in Dungannon, held on 18th December 1996.
I just wanted to say this morning how pleased I am to be here in Northern Ireland this morning and how much I’ve enjoyed the visit to the Bush School. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to finish the school play, it was just getting to the tense part but I’m reliably informed that it ends happily. I have, this morning, three places of extremely good news for every part of the United Kingdom. The unemployment figures announced a few minutes ago show the largest drop in unemployment since records were first kept, 25 years ago. We’ve seen today unemployment drop by just under 96,000 and we’ve seen that drop reflected right the way across the United Kingdom in terms of male unemployment, that has fallen, female employment has fallen and it has fallen in every region across the United Kingdom. This fall this morning doesn’t just take unemployment below 2 million, it takes it down to over 1.9 million, a very long way below 2 million, and it’s extremely good news for very many people.
The other two pieces of good news I think, perhaps, help explain the drop in unemployment. The first is the report of the OECD into the economy across the United Kingdom. The OECD independent forecast not only notes that we’ve had the largest growth in the United Kingdom of anywhere in Europe last year and this year, but forecasts that we will have the largest growth across Europe next year and the year after that and that we will do that by maintaining very low inflation.
The third piece of good news is the growth in retail sales showing yet again that the economy at the moment is extremely buoyant, so what we can see as we come to Christmas 1996 is perhaps the best economic prospects that we’ve seen across the United Kingdom for a very long time. I don’t think many people will remember when the prospects were quite as rosy as they were at present and we now have to make sure that those rosy prospects are turned into future realities and I have every intention of ensuring that we do. Here in Northern Ireland we’ve seen today’s unemployment figures take unemployment down below 10 per cent for the first time, I think, in about 15 or 16 years and that is a trend, I think that looks as though it’s going to continue, so extremely good news for very many people.
Prime Minister, can I just ask you if you’re still committed to the peace process?
I’m totally committed to the peace process and I will remain committed to the peace process for as long as I remain in politics, which I expect to be a very long time.
Prime Minister, are you disappointed with all this good news you’re telling us about doesn’t extend to good news about real progress in the peace process which you might have expected coming back?
I would have liked to have had more progress. I’ve said from the outset of this that it would often be two steps forward and one step back and I’m afraid over the last few weeks we’ve been in the one step back mould. I very much regret that but I think if we take the long view and see the changes that have occurred over the last few years, the change not just in terms of tangible progress but the changes in the terms of debate, the way in which the debate is expressed, I think we can see that over the longer run a lot of progress has been made and I believe that more progress can be made and will be made. The principal reason I’m confident about that is what I see every time I come to Northern Ireland. I come to Northern Ireland and I see people, whichever side they may instinctively support, who wish to see progress. I don’t believe people can stand in the way of that progress, it may be slow, it may be painful, but progress I’m confident there will be.
What words of hope would you offer to the people of Northern Ireland for 1997? 1996 started off looking very good, ‘97 doesn’t look so good?
Well I hope from where we are that we will be able to move forward. As I said a moment ago there’s a pause in the move forward but I don’t think this pause will last for good, providing everybody who speaks about their will to have peace means that they say, then there’s no reason why we can’t make progress. We have always known there’d be some very difficult hurdles to overcome but we know those hurdles would come at irregular intervals in the process, we have now hit a hurdle, but I think it is a hurdle we will be able to overcome, we’ve done so in the past, I have every intention of trying to do so again.