Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 5th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 4:23 pm, 5th March 2019

May I begin by offering a small prediction that, sadly, there will be very little coverage of this debate in the Northern Ireland media or beyond? That is a tragedy, especially when I compare it to a debate that might take place in a large local authority—in my city region, for example. There would be massively more local media interest in such a debate for a particular reason: there is engagement with the political process. At the moment, people are becoming disillusioned with the political process in Northern Ireland, and that is beyond a matter of regret; it is a matter of danger for us all, and we should recognise that.

As the Secretary of State said, there has been no functioning Stormont for over two years, as the Stormont Executive and Assembly collapsed on 9 January 2017. The Secretary of State has a unique role, in that at no point other than when the present Lord Murphy introduced a budget to establish the Assembly has a Secretary of State delivered a budget. This Secretary of State has now delivered two.

This is set against a background, I have to say, of a seeming lack of action on re-establishing the Stormont Executive and Assembly. I know that the political parties in Stormont will argue as to who is responsible. However, the reality is that during the more than two years that have gone by, the level of activity has been low. The Secretary of State has met the political parties, but not regularly. A little over a year ago, when the Prime Minister went over to be part of this along with the Taoiseach, people thought and hoped, rightly, that there would be a resolution to the situation. The Prime Minister has not been engaged consistently since then. I am bound to compare that with John Major when he was Prime Minister before the Good Friday agreement was signed, with Tony Blair during the years when he was Prime Minister, and with David Cameron when he was Prime Minister. I have to say to the Secretary of State that we must see more concerted action. We have to see some ambition for real change.

I know that this will not please everybody in the Chamber, but let me quote Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Féin at Stormont, who said, when talking about a serious and meaningful talks process that removes obstacles to proper power sharing and delivers a successful outcome in restoring the Assembly, that

“we have yet to see Karen Bradley prioritise such a process”.

The Secretary of State may be cynical about Michelle O’Neill. I know that other hon. Members in the Chamber certainly will be. However, the same message is coming through to me from all the political parties that this Government have not been properly engaged in re-establishing the Stormont Assembly.

The Secretary of State has said to me:

“This Government will continue to observe all our commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2019;
Vol. 654, c. 906.]