Northern Ireland Assembly: Re-establishment

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

What progress has been made towards the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We debated this point at some length in the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill yesterday, and the frustration from all sides at the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive was palpable. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, she has met representatives of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government recently, and I can confirm that discussions have been ongoing since then.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Does the Minister share my concern at the increasing polarisation of politics in the UK, and particularly in Northern Ireland? Is he satisfied that there is sufficient diversity and pluralism within political representation there to make the re-establishment of the Assembly a success?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We elect the politicians we deserve. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are periodic calls for a greater variety of representation and range of representation in this Parliament and, I am sure, in Stormont. The difficulty in Northern Ireland is that Northern Ireland’s politics has been far more polarised for a long time. We are trying, collectively, on all sides, to usher it back towards the centre ground and co-operation at least.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Will the Minister acknowledge that the lack in re-establishing the Assembly is not down to this party? This party does not have red lines; one party is causing the difficulty, and that is Sinn Féin. Will the Minister acknowledge that?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I will quote the Labour party spokesman, who said yesterday that the existence of preconditions or red lines was frequently a facet of talks processes. The point is to get a process that allows us to overcome those preconditions. If we allow ourselves to be sidetracked in the first place by their existence, we will never get anywhere towards succeeding.