Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:40 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:40 pm, 12th March 2019

My Lords, I will speak briefly with what is, I hope, a simple message, one which has been expressed many times but needs to be repeated. The Explanatory Notes for the legislation before us this evening begin with the following statement:

“The Bill deals with matters arising from the continued absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, and the consequent inability of the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass legislation to provide the authority for departmental expenditure following the Assembly election on 2 March 2017”.

It is clearly important that we support the legislation because, in its absence, government departments and public bodies in Northern Ireland will be unfunded; no one in your Lordships’ House would want that. However, the people of Northern Ireland should not be placed in this invidious position, with no prospect of the establishment of an accountable, devolved Administration anywhere in sight.

Last Saturday, I attended the Ulster Unionist Party’s annual general meeting in Belfast. It was standing room only, although I am happy to say that my noble friend Lord Empey and I were given seats. The mood was vibrant as candidates and supporters listened to an excellent speech from our party leader, Robin Swann, in advance of the council elections in May. There is real enthusiasm for the democratic process in Northern Ireland, and the absence of a Stormont Assembly and the ability to engage with locally elected Ministers is causing ever-increasing frustration, anger and dismay. As an aside, if we had devolution and the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, was Minister, I have every confidence that a bloody good job would be done.

I reiterate the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Hay of Ballyore, on the proposed medical school in Londonderry. In Northern Ireland, we are short of both doctors and nurses. Can special arrangements be put in place to at least allow this facility to become operational? On a personal note, last Friday I had an examination by a specialist for a minor ailment. Minor though it was, nevertheless an operation is required. It is expected that I will have that operation in two years’ time.

This morning it was announced that four viable parcel bombs targeting London and Glasgow over recent days were sent by a group calling itself the IRA. The perpetrators are thought to be so-called dissident republicans. I remind your Lordships that it was dissident republicans who were responsible for the 1998 Omagh bomb attack, which took the lives of 29 people, including a pregnant mother with twins. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, such evil terrorists exploit political vacuums for their own murderous ends, and always will do so.

I have a simple message for the Minister. I will support the Bill, but the current democratic deficit in Northern Ireland must be closed without any delay, and before the men of violence—according to their own sick mindset—get “lucky”.