Northern Ireland

Queen's Speech: Northern Ireland MPs underwhelmed

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Media captionThe Queen sets out the government's plans for the year ahead

Strong in symbolism and laced with tradition, the Queen's Speech outlines what the government plans to do over the coming year.

It is a parliamentary statement of intent written by Downing Street.

It lasted only eight minutes and to some MPs it was too short in length and too light in detail.

There will be measures to set up a new UK Crime Agency, a shake-up of the pensions system and an easing of business regulations.

It will be a light legislative programme, with 15 bills and four draft bills.

Other proposals will allow mothers and fathers to share parental leave, and an Enterprise Bill will make it easier for companies to take on and sack staff.

Legislation will be also introduced to reform the House of Lords, despite divisions within government ranks over the issue.

Some coalition supporters privately fear that the inclusion of Lords reform will stoke Liberal Democrat/Tory tensions, since some Conservatives are strongly opposed to changing the Upper House.

This year's speech also comes after difficult local election results for both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Two years since the coalition was formed, there is nervousness in the air.

For party managers the big issue still remains the economy, but it is clear that critics of the government regard Wednesday's statement as a missed opportunity.

'Minimalist'

The South Down MP Margaret Ritchie described it as a "notably minimalist programme for government from a Tory-led coalition that has delivered little more than a double-dip recession".

The SDLP MP said the government needed to do more to help those facing high fuel costs.

However, there were a number of government initiatives that she welcomed, notably a Green Investment Bank and the introduction of a Supermarket Adjudicator.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds also welcomed the introduction of the National Crime Agency, the Grocery Code Adjudicator and the Banking Reform Bill.

'Missed opportunity'

However, the North Belfast MP said the speech was a missed opportunity and should have included greater measures to alleviate rising petrol and diesel prices and home heating costs.

The DUP deputy leader was also disappointed that there was no reference to an EU Referendum Bill.

He added that changes to parliament's second chamber should not be regarded as a political priority.

"House of Lords reform and tax cuts for the rich are very much at the bottom of the list of things that the vast majority of people in this country want this parliament to be dealing with," he said.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long said: "There was very little in this Queen's Speech for Northern Ireland, with no indication that a Northern Ireland-specific bill to deal with double-jobbing and financial transparency of political donations is on the cards, which had been the secretary of state's intention."

However, the Alliance MP did welcome the commitment to reform banking and protect the public from having to bail out the banks in future.

'Out of touch'

Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker said the government's programme was disappointing.

"There is nothing in this Queen's Speech for Northern Ireland, not even a mention," he said.

"It shows how out of touch Owen Paterson and this Tory-led government is."

The Labour MP added: "Last week we found out that the economy, which had been recovering strongly two years ago, has now sunk into a double-dip recession - a recession made in Downing Street but felt in every street in towns and villages across Northern Ireland.'

Predictably, his opposite number Owen Paterson, the secretary of state, took a much different approach.

He is convinced that the plans outlined in the speech can make people's lives better.

The cabinet minister said: "This is a Queen's Speech that continues to take the tough, long term decisions to restore the United Kingdom to strength."

"We are dealing with the deficit, rebalancing our economy and building a society that rewards people who work hard and do the right thing," he added.

"Northern Ireland will benefit from these measures."

Speaking in Westminster, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the measures contained in the Queen's Speech would help Britain's "strivers and doers" and get the economy moving.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said his party would support measures such as parental leave and a Green Investment Bank, but the speech contained nothing for the young unemployed and working families.