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Prior to Christmas, the UK Government initiated a period of political talks to get Stormont up and running again. Following nine months of negotiations, and nearly four weeks of intensive discussions over the Christmas period, last week the Tánaiste and I tabled a draft text to all parties and made it available to the public. The document, entitled “New Decade, New Approach”, set out what we assessed to be a fair and balanced deal, based on all the discussions between ourselves and the parties, and on what the parties told us would represent the right deal for Northern Ireland.
I am delighted to tell the House that all five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties accepted the deal as a basis for re-entering devolved government. Ministers have been appointed, an Executive has been formed, and the Assembly is open for business. Devolution is restored in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister visited the Assembly and met the Executive on Monday to mark the positive moment of restored devolved government. I know that the whole House will join me in welcoming and celebrating the return of devolved government, and in congratulating party leaders on their confident decision to make this happen.
I thank my team in the UK civil service, the Northern Ireland Office and No. 10 Downing Street for their months of work to make the deal happen. I also thank the Northern Ireland political parties, the Westminster parties and Tony Lloyd. I want to put on record the debt that I owe my two predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). I also thank my right hon. Friend Mrs May for all the work that she put into this issue during her time as Prime Minister. Finally, on a personal level, I thank Jonathan Stephens, the retiring permanent secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, Ross Easton and, above all, Lilah Howson-Smith.
The Good Friday agreement, which was signed more than 20 years ago, brought with it an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and growth for Northern Ireland. That progress, however, always was and always will be underpinned by the institutions that it created. Now that those institutions have been restored to full working order, we can carry on with the important business of moving Northern Ireland forward and bringing its people together. The institutions for north-south and east-west co-operation can work again as intended.
The “New Decade, New Approach” deal sets out a range of commitments for the Executive, the UK Government and the Irish Government. It commits a new Executive to addressing the immediate challenges facing the health service, reforming the education and justice systems, growing the economy, promoting opportunity and tackling deprivation. The deal does not seek to restore the Executive for its own sake, but offers real reforms aimed at making it more sustainable and transparent so that the institutions can begin to rebuild trust and confidence with the public. The deal also gives the Executive a seat at the table when we discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol with the European Union. It solves outstanding cases which have been causing real concern to families, so that all the people of Northern Ireland are treated in the same way when bringing family members to this country.
Yesterday the Government announced that we would provide the restored Executive with a £2 billion financial package that would deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and support the deal. That financial commitment represents the biggest injection of new money in a Northern Ireland talks deal for well over a decade. It has already allowed the Executive, this morning, to pledge to deliver pay parity for nurses in Northern Ireland, the first such intervention in a devolved area and one that has now ended the nurses’ strike, and it will continue to support the Executive’s delivery of the priorities for the people of Northern Ireland.
Provided over five years, the deal will include a guarantee of at least £1 billion of Barnett-based funding to turbo-charge infrastructure investment, along with £1 billion of new resources and capital spending. That will include significant new funding of about £245 million to transform public services, including health, education and justice, and a rapid injection of £550 million to put the Executive’s finances on a sustainable footing, including £200 million over three years to help to resolve the nurses’ pay dispute immediately and deliver pay parity.
The UK Government will ring-fence £45 million of capital, and will provide resource funding to deliver a Northern Ireland graduate-entry medical school in Derry/Londonderry, subject to Executive approval. They will also provide £50 million over two years to support the roll-out of ultra low emission public transport. Moreover, the agreement will provide £140 million to address Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. That money will help to strengthen our Union, and will support the four key areas set out in “New Decade, New Approach”. I hope that the whole House will join me in welcoming the announcement.
These funds will come with stringent conditions attached. In particular, through this agreement I will convene a UK Government-Northern Ireland Executive joint board. This will provide a clear role for the UK Government in overseeing the implementation of this financial package. More broadly, it is right, as we have heard in recent days, that the Executive should focus on ensuring that public services and finances can be delivered more sustainably. Northern Ireland taxpayers deserve to know that their money is being used efficiently and effectively.
The past few days have given us much cause for celebration, but this is not job done. Three years without an Executive was completely unacceptable, and it is now down to all of us to ensure that this never happens again. We need an Executive that will go forward on the basis of trust and mutual respect and, above all else, focus on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. For my part, I will ensure that the UK Government fully implement their commitments under this deal, but I will also be working with the Executive to ensure that the letter and the spirit of this agreement are being delivered. I commend the statement to the House.