Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead 3:43 pm, 24th October 2018

As one of two former Northern Ireland Ministers on the Government Benches, let me say that I know how difficult the ministerial team has found it to get to this position with the Bill. The Bill is far from perfect, and it is very easy for us on the Government Back Benches—and for those on other Benches, and for the shadow Secretary of State and the shadow Minister—to tell everybody what should have happened. It would be very easy to criticise—and there was a bit of criticism from the shadow Secretary of State—but the Secretary of State is dancing on the head of a pin, because without a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, the whole area around the Northern Ireland agreement is in a difficult position.

Nobody in this House—nobody who really understands the Northern Ireland political position—would dream of having a situation in which civil servants were empowered by the Bill to progress things in a way that people in any other part of the United Kingdom would find completely undemocratic, and that would never be passed by this House. To perhaps not dance on the head of a pin, this is as close as we will get to direct rule without direct rule.

Some of the political persuasions in Northern Ireland want that to happen. They want crisis. For their own political beliefs, mostly around a united Ireland, they want to make the whole thing collapse. We are very close to that. We cannot have a situation in which the Province is brought to its knees because one group of people want one thing and another group cannot accept that.