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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:47 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade) 11:47 pm, 28th October 2019

May I first add my support for the many issues that my colleagues have discussed today? In particular, I want to focus in my short remarks on a number of policy issues that should be being dealt with by the Northern Ireland Executive but that, sadly, are not.

Of course, there are many important issues in the overall reports, and we have heard some detailed discussion of them. In previous debates, I have gone into some of the detail of those issues, but I want to focus tonight on paragraph 3(1), which is on Executive formation, and to spend a little time outlining the impact of the lack of that Executive formation on my constituency, but also across Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend Nigel Dodds, my party leader here at Westminster, articulated earlier the many issues that are suffering due to the lack of a Northern Ireland Assembly and because the Northern Ireland Government have not been reformed. The update in the report is very short because, since we last considered these reports, there is still no Northern Ireland Executive.

I was elected to represent the wonderful constituency of Belfast South just in the 2017 election, and it has been an incredible privilege to do so. In many ways, Belfast South is a thriving constituency. We have some of the best schools in Northern Ireland. We have some of the highest employment rates in not just Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom. We have some of the lowest unemployment rates. At the last count, we had over 19,000 registered businesses. We have an incredibly diverse constituency, with many wonderful institutions, including the Lyric, many arts institutions, the Ulster Museum, Queen’s University and Stranmillis College, to name just a few. Relative to many other constituencies, mine is doing very well, and I am incredibly proud to represent it.

Like all constituencies, however, we still have challenges. The constituents I represent still have very real needs across a whole range of public services from health, education and infrastructure to worrying about bills and worrying about their businesses. I want to touch briefly on some of those issues, because they are the type of everyday issues that are not being articulated in Northern Ireland because of the lack of a Northern Ireland Assembly. They are not being articulated in this place either, because of the nature of the debates. Debates on those issues tend not to include or extend to devolved issues, but they are the issues that are impacting on a day-to-day basis. I know that and my hon. Friends know that, because we listen to our constituents and we know the serious concerns they have. We know the serious detrimental impact those issues are having on their lives. I know that the Secretary of State and his team have been out and about as well, talking to constituents right across Northern Ireland.

I want to touch first on education. Education in Northern Ireland is under huge pressure. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee took some evidence from a number of schools and headteachers. I went out and talked to schools—nursery schools, primary schools and post-primary schools—across my constituency. They are doing an incredible job at a very difficult time. We know that their budgets are under huge pressure. That is why the Democratic Unionist party, in the confidence and supply arrangement, secured additional money for education. We wanted to make sure that those additional funds went into much-needed public services, not for one part of the community but for people right across the community. We knew that schools would be under pressure. We knew there were further projected cuts for schools, and we wanted to do everything we could to help every child in Northern Ireland succeed. It is my party that stood on that platform. No matter where a child comes from, or what their background or financial circumstances are, the DUP wants every child in Northern Ireland to succeed. We recognise that succeeding in education is the gateway to a much better life for people, their families and their grandchildren.

The other area under huge pressure in Northern Ireland on education is special educational needs. There have been a number of debates in this place about autism services and mental health needs, yet for Northern Ireland we have been starved of that debate because of the inability to get the Northern Ireland Executive back up and going. In Northern Ireland, we have some of the highest levels of mental health needs and that is also the case within schools. I speak to parents day in, day out. They are under huge pressure to try to get much-needed help and support for their children. They know that their children need everything from getting a diagnosis to getting a statement to trying to get educational support for that child. The Education Authority needs more resources, both financial and in terms of professionals. Parents need more support in their fight to get what their child needs and schools need more resources to provide that support. These are the types of issues that are not being talked about in Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist party is committed to a fundamental review of special educational needs to ensure proper resources go into special educational needs for every child across all communities in Northern Ireland.