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 9:59 pm on 9th September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader 9:59 pm, 9th September 2019

I will be brief because I know many Members want to get in, although there are many things I could say. I agree with what has been said about the curtailing of this debate. Some of these issues are extremely important, but nothing is more important than the victims of violence and historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. It is madness that we have ended up in a situation where other matters are being debated and these are not. It is just wrong, and the Government should look to themselves for how this has come about. People have talked about putting responsibility on to others, and it is easy to blame the Standing Order No. 24 debates, but the Government had choices to make and, unfortunately, these are the choices they made.

A volume of work needs to be done to address these issues in Northern Ireland, and powers need to be taken. People have complained about the impact of Prorogation. Quite frankly, this House has had months, if not nearly three years, to take responsibility and do something about some of these issues.

Democratic Unionist Members have been raising the need for decisions to be made across a range of issues in Northern Ireland, and, as the Secretary of State knows from his previous job, we have constantly pressed for decisions to be made on health, education, infrastructure, housing, investment and the other crucial issues we are debating tonight. We have constantly asked for this House and its Members to take responsibility and treat the people of Northern Ireland properly in the absence of devolved government.

It was a deliberate part of both Government and Opposition policy that the decision was taken—these are important matters to people in Northern Ireland—not to take any powers and not to make the necessary moves. People talk about who should take responsibility, but it is a bit late now, in the teeth of Prorogation, to complain about lack of time. People had plenty of time before now to do something about these matters, but they decided not to.

In time, when we come to the issue of necessary powers being taken in the event of the Assembly not being restored, I make it very clear to the Secretary of State—he knows this—that the institutions in Northern Ireland and the operation of devolved government are a strand 1 issue for Her Majesty’s Government and the parties in Northern Ireland, and we fully expect that the three-strand approach will be respected.

When the shadow Secretary of State talks about dialogue between the Government, the parties and Dublin, let us be very clear that, on the issue of the powers here if the Assembly is not restored, this is a matter under strand 1 for the Government and the parties in Northern Ireland exclusively. Strands 2 and 3 are different, but strand 1 is very clear. That was agreed and has been the case for the past number of decades.

Of course we want to get Stormont up and running, and we are fully committed to it. As the Secretary of State noted, Arlene Foster proposed more than 18 months ago to get the Assembly up and running to deal with these important matters, without prejudice to the issues that Sinn Féin elevated after agreeing a programme for government that did not include some of the issues that now prevent the restoration of Stormont. She offered to restore the Assembly on a time-limited basis to deal with some of these pressing issues, and it was rejected by Sinn Féin almost within half an hour. It was not even given proper consideration.

We want the Assembly to be restored but, as some of my hon. and right hon. Friends have pointed out, the incentives for getting it done have been completely switched. People on the Sinn Féin side are very content to sit back and wait until the deadline runs out, because that will achieve some of their objectives.

Some people in this House, when it comes to Brexit and Northern Ireland, simply do not know how to negotiate. They actually hand over the incentive for the other side to sit tight, and then they complain about the consequences to the Members who actually take their seats here. The fact that Sinn Féin are not here tonight is a demonstration of one of the problems we face in Northern Ireland. They boycott this place, they boycott the Executive and they boycott the Assembly, and then we are told it is all the fault of one party or the other parties, and all the rest of it.

We will continue to work with the Secretary of State in the coming days and weeks—he knows this—to try to get the Assembly up and running but, as my hon. Friend Emma Little Pengelly indicated, we have made proposal after proposal, and they have been rejected. We will continue to work at it, however, because we know the importance of restoring the Assembly and the Executive, especially in the run-up to Brexit. Again, we will continue to work with Her Majesty’s Government on that issue, to achieve a deal—to achieve an outcome where people can be satisfied that the objective of leaving the European Union in a sensible way that works for the whole of the United Kingdom is achieved, and so we do not undermine the economic integrity or constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

People talk about respect for the Belfast agreement, but that works two ways. Not only does it work in terms of a north-south border, but we must not implement an east-west border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I am very glad that the Government have recognised, as reflected in a letter to Donald Tusk that the Prime Minister sent in August, that not only is the backstop anti-democratic, in the sense that laws will be made for Northern Ireland over which Stormont, even if restored, would have no say, and no one here would have any say—Northern Ireland would be obliged to accept whatever was handed down in law by the European Commission or the European Council through appropriate procedure—but it is contrary to the basis of the Belfast agreement. That basis is the consent of both communities that while we respect the institutions north-south, we cannot undermine the position that Unionists adhere to, which is that we have a single market within the United Kingdom where most of our trade is done. We simply ask for a fair and balanced deal.

I wish to bring my remarks to a close earlier than I otherwise might have, because of the shortage of time. However, I want to say something to the Secretary of State. He is aware of the demonstrations and the silent, dignified marches and walks that took place in Belfast on Friday and Saturday, when tens of thousands of people turned out on the streets to demonstrate their concern about the way in which this House has undermined the devolution settlement when it comes to abortion by having this imposed without any proper consultation whatsoever. They remain concerned about how the consultation may be carried out and they simply want their rights to be respected.

In closing, may I urge the Secretary of State to continue to work with us, the Belfast MPs, particularly on the future of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. He has talked about the lack of powers in Northern Ireland, but there are powers at a UK level that can be used to ensure the future of this great historic shipyard and the fantastic workers there. I pay tribute to the work that has been by my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson in that regard.

Finally, I wish to talk about the Northern Ireland Hospice, in my own constituency, which is an excellent and fantastic institution that we in the Democratic Unionist party and in Northern Ireland were happy to ensure was able to be rebuilt, through the Northern Ireland Executive, with £2.1 million given to that, as well as another cocktail of funding. We want to see that rescued from its current predicament, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned it in this speech. We want to see the Secretary of State work with us; perhaps he would meet me to discuss what can be done to take that forward. However rushed and short this debate tonight, I hope he will take on board the strength of feeling that exists on these Benches on these issues.