Recent Disorder

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 21st April 2021.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

What steps the Government are taking to tackle the causes of the recent disorder in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

What steps the Government are taking in response to the recent disorder in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The sporadic localised disorder that we have seen in Northern Ireland is completely unacceptable, and I appreciate the comments made by Stephen Farry in that regard over the past couple of weeks. The factors behind that disorder are complex and, as I have said, multifaceted. All communities in Northern Ireland must work together to resolve current tensions and unrest. I have been in regular close contact with political and community leaders, as well as with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and it is clear that, as we know in this House, the only way to resolve differences is through dialogue. In that regard, we all have the ability to lead the way by example.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

I join colleagues in expressing full solidarity with the police officer affected this week. It is important always to remain united in opposing terrorism. Does the Secretary of State recognise that there is a trade-off between the nature of the UK’s Brexit, and the level of checks down the Irish sea as a consequence? The UK Government can play a key role in defusing those tensions if, like many other sovereign states, they follow through and negotiate that bespoke agreement.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

As I outlined in a statement last week, and as I have just said, the tensions and issues that led to violence a couple of weeks ago are multifaceted and, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, a number of issues are going on. I would be wary of putting this on any one issue, or of giving anyone the view that it is acceptable to argue that, because of tensions over the protocol, it is acceptable to use violence. There is much more to what happened the other week than that. As I have said, we want to work towards a practical pragmatic solution with our partners in the EU, to ensure we have that good, free and flexible flow of products between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the way we want, and as we deliver from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

I agree with the Secretary of State that the reasons behind the violence are multifaceted, but the barriers to trade, which the Prime Minister repeatedly and wrongly denied existed, have played a part in the growing political instability in Northern Ireland. We need solutions. Will the Secretary of State do what he did not do in last week’s statement and confirm that his Government are seeking an agreement on common veterinary standards? That would go a long way to lowering barriers to trade in food products across the Irish sea.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

We are working intensely with our partners and colleagues in the European Union. Lord Frost is currently working with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič on a wide range of issues, including agrifoods, so that we get a resolution that works for the people of Northern Ireland, with Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have seen an increase in tensions, particularly in Unionist communities, and we need to recognise the issues around a sense of identity. We can all play a part in helping the EU to understand better the lasting impact of the action it took when it went to trigger article 16 just a couple of months ago. The disruption affects people across all communities in Northern Ireland, and we want that to be resolved in partnership with the EU.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

May I associate myself, as others have, with the remarks that the Secretary of State made with regard to the horrible and horrific event yesterday in Dungiven? That and recent scenes remind us all too well of the horrors of the past and surely must reinvigorate us all to ensure that they do not become either endemic to the present or part of Northern Ireland’s future.

Will the Secretary of State assure me that the PSNI has adequate resourcing to proactively interrupt social media platforms and posts, which are clearly the new way of communicating types of disorder? The PSNI needs to be able to monitor and intervene. Can he assure me that the full resource of the state is available to it to ensure that this important work is done to the best of its abilities?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee makes a very important point, as others have, about the impact and importance of dealing with social media. Yes, absolutely: I have spoken to the chief constable and outlined to him our full support and we are working with the police to ensure that they have access to the full capabilities to work and deal with social media issues. We obviously recognise that policing is a devolved matter, but they have our full support and we will continue to work with them on those issues.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

May I, too, associate myself with the comments about, and send our best wishes to, the serving police officer? As a former special constable, I know that the whole police family will be reeling today, and my thoughts are with them all.

It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the 23 years since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, the peace process has never been as vulnerable as it is now. The north-south institutions fundamental to the support of Irish nationalists are under pressure, and the east-west relationship has been seriously undermined by the Prime Minister and his approach to Brexit. The Secretary of State bears a responsibility to help stabilise the situation, so will he ensure that the British-Irish Council is urgently convened to give Northern Ireland representatives a voice in discussions around the protocol and huge decisions about their own future?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Yes. I suggest that the hon. Lady looks back: a while ago, we announced that the British-Irish Council would meet on 11 June. It continues its regular meetings, which have never stopped; the last one was in November. But yes—as it has been regularly meeting.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I suggest that 11 June is not an urgent meeting and recommend that that meeting should be brought forward urgently to discuss these important issues.

The Secretary of State will know that some very young children, born long after the Good Friday agreement, have been involved in some of the recent disorder. Does he agree that, wherever appropriate, working with the PSNI, restorative justice should be used to ensure that those children are not criminalised and do not run the risk of falling into the toxic, coercive grip of paramilitaries?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Yes, absolutely. I will also just say that the Northern Ireland Executive have been involved in the specialist committee, which feeds into the Joint Committee, through the work that we do through the engagement forums and, actually, a meeting with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič just a few weeks ago. They are consistently involved and feeding into the process and the work that we do with the EU, but as I say, the British-Irish Council date was set a short while ago.

On the hon. Lady’s comments about young people, she is absolutely right; I fully support that point. Community groups and youth groups have been working with young people, not just in the last few weeks but consistently over the last year or so. They do amazing work to help young people to see a way through to a prosperous and exciting future. We should all be doing all we can to support, promote and encourage that so that people are not tempted, whether through social media or though bad advice in the heat of the moment in the streets, as we saw a few weeks ago, into the type of behaviour that gives them a criminal record and curtails their opportunities for the future.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

May I take this opportunity to associate myself and my party with the comments that have been made on both sides of the House about the disgraceful and despicable attempt on the life of a serving police officer in Dungiven on Monday?

In these times of heightened tensions in the community, language and leadership matter, so does the Secretary of State consider that the Prime Minister’s referring to the “ludicrous” barriers that result from the protocol—a protocol that he himself insisted on the terms of—are a help or a hindrance to reaching a solution in Northern Ireland that all parts of the community can accept?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman betrayed a lack of understanding, in the sense that people of the whole community of Northern Ireland are affected by these problems and the outworkings of the protocol. Whether it is somebody who has a nationalist constitutional view or a Unionist constitutional view, the practical outworkings for both consumers and businesses are real for the whole community. There is an added sense, as I outlined earlier, that the identity of the loyalist Unionist community in Northern Ireland has been affected, so the Prime Minister was absolutely right. It is helpful in that it clearly recognises—the hon. Gentleman sadly does not—the sense of injustice and feeling of attack on identity that is there in the Unionist community. We have to be clear that we recognise that and want to deal with that with our partners in the EU. To pretend it is not there simply is not going to handle the problem.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

Dissident republicans tried to murder a police officer and her young child in County Derry this week. I take this opportunity, as an Irish nationalist, to send those dissident republicans a very clear message: your quarrel is not with the police, it is not with the British state; it is with the people of Ireland and that is a battle you will never, ever win.

Given the Prime Minister’s very speedy response to an issue about football—as important as that is—compared with the quickness of his response to the violence on the streets of Northern Ireland for almost 10 days, does the Secretary of State agree with me that we need an active, engaged and interested Prime Minister in dealing with our peace process?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Yes, absolutely, and I am very proud of the fact that we do. We have a Prime Minister who has been very much engaged. The hon. Gentleman should look at the Prime Minister’s comments and the fact that he was talking to the Taoiseach in the early stages. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks about dissident republicans. The Prime Minister has been actively involved. He has been in full communication all the way through this process. In terms of looking at how people deal with this, I would just say that all Members of this House, including some in the hon. Gentleman’s own party, need to think very carefully when they are tweeting things that could be seen as incendiary to make sure we all take the right tone on these matters to ensure we return calm for people as quickly as possible.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Having spoken to my constituent yesterday who was the subject of such a disgraceful attack, I can tell the House that the victim and her family deeply appreciate the unanimous support, and that the wider community in County Londonderry does as well. The Secretary of State has indicated his concern about the rising tensions. Will he take more steps now to understand the activities that are going on, the rationale behind them and the need to stand up to the violence, but also the need to understand and take action to deal with the underlying problems that exist in those areas?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Yes. I think the hon. Gentleman alludes to a wider issue that the previous questioner rightly raised in the statement last week. A multi-faceted set of issues came together over the last few weeks. We should not allow ourselves to miss out on the fact that it is important and highlights why we have to do more work to ensure that, as we are levelling up and building back better across the United Kingdom, that reaches all communities and that all communities can benefit, see opportunities, see growth, and really have a better opportunity for a better and brighter future.