Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 Section 3(2)

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (Rule of Law) – in the House of Commons at 8:59 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 8:59 pm, 9th September 2019

I am confident that the business managers will look very favourably on such a Bill for the Queen’s Speech.

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since January 2017. In that time, we have seen hospital waiting lists get longer, public services deteriorate, and frustration in Northern Ireland grow. The issue of Brexit has made the need for a reformed Executive ever more urgent. It is clear that Northern Ireland’s interests at this time are best served by a restored Executive in place and ready to take the necessary decisions.

The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, started the latest round of cross-party talks, following on from the work of my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire. I pay tribute to their tireless work. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mrs May for all that she did to drive for Stormont to be up and running during her time as Prime Minister. I am also in no doubt, from the work we have done together since he became Prime Minister, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is personally committed to the swift conclusion of these talks.

The same issues have been discussed in cross-party talks for over two years. Some aspects of those talks are very close to resolution, and I believe the parties could agree swiftly on a programme for government, on measures to increase transparency, and on the sustainability of the institutions—although gaps do remain between the two main parties on rights, culture and identity. However, both the UK and Irish Governments share the view that, notwithstanding the importance of these issues, these topics can be resolved in short order.

Political parties across the spectrum must now realise that the lack of political leadership has left public servants bearing the load for far too long. I have seen this at first hand when speaking to the principal at Ashfield Boys High School in east Belfast and to doctors and nurses at Musgrove Park Hospital, and in my many meetings with all those who serve so bravely in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. There can be no more excuses: we simply have to get the Assembly and the Executive up and running. So the UK Government, working closely with the Irish Government in accordance with the three-stranded approach, will now intensify our efforts to put forward compromise solutions to the parties. I urge the parties to make the most of the days ahead and to work with me and the Tánaiste to do what is best for the people of Northern Ireland. Whatever the outcome of that process—whether I can update on positive or negative developments—I will publish a report on or before 9 October. If I have to report that those efforts were not successful, my next update to the House will set out the next steps to ensure adequate governance in Northern Ireland and the protection of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.