Northern Ireland: Political Process

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

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 5:53 pm, 29th April 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer of support from all sides of the House in this process. This is not going to be easy—I am realistic about the challenges we face—and it is going to need absolute determination from everybody in this House to help the parties, and to help the leaders of those parties, to do what will be difficult, because there will be difficult accommodations that need to be reached for power sharing to be restored.

However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no alternative for the people of Northern Ireland to fully devolved inclusive power sharing. That is the way those difficult decisions were taken in 1998 by politicians who made sacrifices personally. The people of Northern Ireland backed the proposals in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement wholeheartedly and overwhelmingly in a referendum, but did so knowing that they were not getting everything they wanted. They were having to give in certain areas, and that was difficult. We cannot let those sacrifices and the leadership that was shown 21 years ago go to waste. We have to see fully inclusive devolved power sharing in Stormont.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of points, and I will address as many of them as I can. He talked about Northern Ireland being in the news for all the wrong reasons. He and I have had a number of private conversations in the past few days, and he knows that I share that view. That beautiful, dynamic and energetic part of the world is too often ignored until something like the tragedy of the death of Lyra McKee happens, and that should not be the case. We want Northern Ireland to be in the news and celebrated for all the right reasons. I take him back to the comments of Councillor John Boyle, the mayor of Derry and Strabane, who knew Lyra personally—he was one of her tutors. He said that she had always wanted her name in lights, but not for this reason. I think we can all agree with that. He is right to say that the words we heard in the cathedral were echoed around the world, and that they showed a real common understanding of the outrage.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about young people needing a life, not having a gun put in their hands. They need jobs and prosperity. It is not enough to say that unemployment is at a record low and that employment is at an all-time high; we need to keep building on that. We need more investment, and I am working hard to deliver a city deal for Derry and Strabane. Mr Campbell and I met to talk about that on Friday, and we need to deliver it. The city deal for Belfast has already been delivered, and the city deal for Derry and Strabane will provide important opportunities.

I have always said that I wanted to restart the talks, but it was realistic to say that they had to wait until after the local elections. I am sad that it has taken such a tragedy to persuade the political leaders to stand together, but I am hopeful and optimistic that we can build on that in the time we have ahead of us after the local elections, before we move into the next part of the year, when excuses could be used for not having talks. We need no more excuses. The time has come for talks, and we need them to start. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support.