DEEP seated divisions still exist in parts of Northern Ireland 15 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said.
She said there was an urgent need for progress to be made towards reconciliation, mutual understanding and mutual trust.
“We should all consider ourselves custodians of the Agreement the stability it has brought should never be taken for granted.”
She said that Northern Ireland needed a sustained effort to build a society based on mutual respect for all citizens, regardless of their community background.
“A society that’s free from the blight of sectarianism, intimidation and paramilitary violence and where the rule of law is paramount.
“And a society that says it’s not where you come from that matters, but where you’re going and what you can contribute.”
Ms Villiers was attending an event in Belfast on Monday morning, marking the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore are meeting with Ms Villiers in the city on Monday also.
She highlighted: “Whenever sectarian tensions spill over into street violence that’s distressing and disruptive for those living in the areas affected which are often the most economically disadvantaged in Northern Ireland.
“And this kind of lawlessness also sends a negative message round the world that does real damage to Northern Ireland’s reputation and its ability to compete.
“And it is depressing that some of those involved in disorder and sectarianism weren’t even born when the first ceasefires occurred and the peace process started in earnest.
“That confirms beyond doubt that the passing of time won’t be sufficient on its own to bridge long-standing sectarian divides.”
On the economy, the Conservative MP said: “The history of this island has often seen periods when many young people feel they have to go overseas to fulfil their aspirations and find the career opportunities they wanted and sadly Northern Ireland has had experience of that.
“Well this is a Government that backs aspiration.
“We’re on the side of people who want to work hard and get on in life.”