Northern Ireland

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 12:40 pm, 16th July 2013

I thank the Secretary of State for her usual courtesy in giving me advance sight of her statement. I also thank her and her officials for keeping me and my office updated over the course of the weekend. That was very much appreciated and in the best traditions of bipartisanship.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. It is right that the House has the opportunity to discuss these important matters.

I unequivocally condemn the violence that has taken place in Belfast over the past number of days and nights. There is no justification for it. The disgraceful attacks on the police have resulted in dozens of injuries, and the very deliberate attempt to murder officers by throwing blast bombs at them last night was shameful. It is also a matter of huge regret and concern that Mr Dodds was also hurt. We wish him well.

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the PSNI and its colleagues from other UK forces for their bravery and determination in upholding the law. Will she update us on the status of injured officers? Are any still receiving treatment? How many have returned to duty? Will she also tell us how many are PSNI officers and how many are from other UK forces? Is she able to say how many mutual aid officers are still undertaking duties in Northern Ireland, and how long she expects that to continue?

We know that the costs of policing large-scale public order incidents can be high. Does the Secretary of State have an estimate of how much the policing operations have cost to date, and who will meet that cost? Will it be her Department, the Department of Justice or a combination of the two?

There is always concern at the involvement of paramilitaries in or on the margins of contentious parades and protests. Has the Secretary of State looked at who was involved and who is being arrested? Is there any indication that loyalist paramilitaries or dissident republicans have organised or taken part in any of the violence?

The origins of the appalling scenes we have witnessed lie in a dispute about parading. We have been here before. Does the Secretary of State agree that meaningful dialogue and working towards local agreement is the key to finding a solution? It has worked well in other places, as she has said. The Orange Order held a peaceful, enjoyable and colourful celebration of 12 July as part of the UK city of culture celebrations in Derry/Londonderry. That was able to happen because of dialogue and communication between neighbours in an atmosphere of mutual respect and good will.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on what discussions she has had with the First and Deputy First Ministers, the Orange Order, residents’ associations, and local political and civic representatives over the weekend? Does she agree that, as Secretary of State, she has an important role to play in having further discussions over the coming weeks in north and east Belfast? As well as condemning the violence that has already taken place, does the Secretary of State agree that we need to work together to ensure it ends and does not occur in the future and to address some of the causes of these problems?

My view is that the British and Irish Governments still have a hugely significant role to play in helping to resolve all these issues. Does the Secretary of State agree that they should both be involved in the talks convened by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which are being facilitated by Richard Haass? Will she confirm that the Northern Ireland Office is working with the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on that, and has she discussed it, or will she discuss it, with the Tanaiste?

In conclusion, it is crucial to bring people together to look at what needs to happen now to prevent a repeat of what has happened over the weekend, when a disagreement that was not addressed led to significant tensions between communities and ended in unacceptable violence. What part can the Secretary of State play in the discussions that need to take place?

The main message that I and, I think, the House want to send is this: we encourage all those who are working to find a solution to these matters to keep going, to keep talking and not to give up. I say to those who are involved in parading and protesting, Unionist and nationalist, that respecting the law, respecting their neighbour and respecting the wishes of people right across the community to live in peace is the only way forward. That has been done in other places across Northern Ireland and it can be done in Belfast.