Northern Ireland: Political Process

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 29th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 5:53 pm, 29th April 2019

In thanking the Secretary of State for advance notice of the statement, may I also firmly welcome the spirit of that statement? She finished by talking about the things that are happening very positively in Northern Ireland, and she is right to do that. The tragedy of Lyra McKee’s murder is that, once again, Northern Ireland is in the news globally for tragedy, not for the things that we want to hear.

Father Martin Magill commended political leaders for standing together in the Creggan on Good Friday, but he went on to say these words, which echoed around the world:

“Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?”

Those words echoed around the world; they struck a very strong chord. We must recognise that they struck a strong chord not simply with the congregation in St Anne’s cathedral, but with people across Northern Ireland. We have to recognise that the politics of relying on the shrinking and narrow base for different political parties in Northern Ireland will lead, and has led, nowhere.

What united the congregation in St Anne’s was the common understanding of the outrage of Lyra McKee’s murder, and the hope that something better had to emerge from that process. Father Magill quoted one of Lyra’s friends, telling us that she or he—I am not sure—said of the younger generation:

“They need jobs…
They need a life, not a gun put in their hands.”

So let us work together to take away the temptation of the gun and replace it with education, training and those very jobs which can transform people’s lives. That is the stark challenge—the Secretary of State is right—to the Northern Ireland political parties, and, in particular, I have to say, to the leaders of the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin. They have to choose: do they want the politics of division or will they build the politics of unity of purpose and the politics of change?

Let me also turn to the position of the Governments in London and in Dublin. It was genuinely good to see the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in Belfast last week. It was good to see the Secretary of State herself and the Tanaiste. It is good that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which was, frankly, so long in abeyance or even abandoned, has now met a couple of times—the Secretary of State announced today its next meeting—but nobody believes that either Government have been sufficiently engaged or energetic in the search for the return of Stormont government. That has now to change. Each Government have to be seized with the import of Northern Ireland and the need for power sharing.

I also have to say to the Secretary of State something I have raised with her before: we have not seen the Prime Minister engaged in this process, and cynics in Northern Ireland—this is important—say to me that Downing Street’s main interest in Northern Ireland has been the 10 votes of the DUP Members of Parliament in this House and that, sadly, that prejudices the way that the Secretary of State’s own efforts are seen. That, again, has to change, because the two Governments have to be seen to be both independent and impartial. That is why I have said in the past to the Secretary of State that the consideration of an independent chair might still have to be on the table.

Every Opposition Member of Parliament—I know I speak for them all, in Wales, in Scotland and in England—will support the Secretary of State in bringing these talks to a legitimate conclusion. I commit the Labour party and myself to working with her, where that is appropriate, to bring about that end, but I have to add a note of caution: yes, we want to see the Stormont Executive and the Stormont Assembly back in operation, but that is not enough. Any vision—there are conflicting visions, I know, of the medium and long-term future of Northern Ireland—must have power sharing and devolved government at its core. We cannot any longer have a stop-go Stormont. This time it must endure.

Father Magill’s powerful words were heard around the world, but what perhaps people did not see, from those in the cathedral that day who loved Lyra, were some looks of anger—of contempt—as they looked across at the politicians on the pews where the Secretary of State and I sat. We need to think about that, because the tragedy of Lyra’s death has given a new impetus for the need for action. Let us not have a future in which people look back with that same anger and contempt because politics has once again failed. Let us build a future where the politics of division is replaced by the politics of unity of purpose, the politics of change and the politics of hope.