Early Parliamentary General Election

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 19th April 2017.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle 2:14 pm, 19th April 2017

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. While we are making comparisons with the election of 1974, an unforeseen casualty of that election was the Sunningdale agreement. The power-sharing Executive formed in Northern Ireland out of the 1973 Assembly ended up falling as a consequence of the 1974 general election because of what was seen to be the balance of forces.

Of course, this general election has been called without regard to the sensitive ongoing negotiations in Northern Ireland, and it is hard to see how it will not have an impact on those negotiations. First, it will probably colour the parties’ attitude to some of the issues we are dealing with, and it will certainly colour their attitude towards each other and their level of trust. Also, the British Government will not be in a position to give undertakings or commitments in the context of those negotiations as purdah kicks in, so how will we get any sort of comprehensive agreement in such circumstances?

As someone who worked with might and main for the Good Friday agreement and its implementation, I do not take those issues lightly. I cannot dismiss them. I want to make sure that we fully protect the agreement, which is why I am no saboteur when it comes to anything endorsed by a referendum, least of all what the Irish people endorsed by referendum when they voted for the Good Friday agreement.

I worry about the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday agreement, and I worry that the Government are in denial about the Brexit process having implications for the agreement. Of course, I also recognise that the agreement gives us the machinery to answer many of the questions and challenges for the whole island of Ireland in terms of Brexit. Strand 2 gives us the material to ensure that, in future, we can operate on a north-south basis in ways that continue to be supported and funded by the EU. We can treat the island as a common market—a single market—in sector after sector under the auspices of the Good Friday agreement.

We go forward in this election positively, but we have no pretence that the election is necessary or that the Prime Minister is justified in the terms she has used. Nor do we buy the sham fight that Mr Dodds is having yet again with Sinn Féin.