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

That intervention is spot on, in many ways. It cannot be on one group’s terms. The Good Friday agreement is specific that it must involve the groups coming together.

In the time I was a Northern Ireland Minister, I met people from all parts of the Province, from all political persuasions and faiths, many of them together in the boxing rings and around rugby. Not once was the Irish language raised with me during my time in the Province. It may have been raised with the Secretary of State, but it certainly was not raised with me. Myriad things were raised, including the difficult situation of the historical investigations, the health service, bridges, roads and lack of infrastructure—all being blocked because one group in the Assembly had a veto. I like to use the word “veto” because I think the public understand it better. To me, that is fundamentally wrong.

We have to ask today whether Sinn Féin want to be part of the process. If not, they should come out and say so. If they do not want the Assembly, Administration and Ministers in place, they should say so. If they do want the Assembly to sit—although it is difficult to see how it could, considering the previous comments by Sinn Féin’s political leaders—they should get into the room, sit down at the table and thrash it out like their predecessors did.

I dealt with the late Martin McGuinness. I never thought that I would get on with him. We were miles apart politically, but he was actually quite pragmatic. He wanted better things for his community—like some of the parties in the House who do not want to be part of the United Kingdom, but come here, thrash things out and are part of it. That is why I have always found the fact that Sinn Féin does not come here, take part and argue its case fundamentally wrong and undemocratic to its constituents.