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My Lords, the final few sentences of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, were exactly what I sought to say. As was stated eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, I wanted to express a heartfelt desire for those vital institutions in Northern Ireland to be restored and to function. My noble friend, who is doing incredible work in Northern Ireland as a Minister, said in this House on
“Without an Executive, the people of Northern Ireland have seen the quality of their public services decline, and decisions that affect their day-to-day lives kicked into the long grass. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better”.—[Official Report, 9/9/19; col. 1356.]
I was reminded of that when there was a march on Sunday to mark 1,000 days since the Assembly had sat. I read a number of speeches from that day. One was from Nichola Corner, the sister of Lyra McKee. She said:
“Our elected politicians continue to let their differences be barriers to progress, peace and change and have transformed the word concession into a dirty word and use it to refuse to honour the will of the people and work together”.
I read of another group called Our Future Our Choice—a group of young people attending the march. It said:
“The children of the peace process deserve better than this. We have been left without oversight, without decision making and without leadership”.
I was in Belfast on Good Friday this year, as my wife and I began a walk in search of common ground over Brexit, believe it or not—a long time ago, but still relevant, I think. We were beginning a walk from Belfast to Brussels and chose Belfast to start because of the Good Friday agreement. We believed that that was an occasion when, through political courage, people stood up and came together, rising above their differences and reaching out to each other to bring about peace.
As we began that walk from Belfast, news was coming through of the murder of Lyra McKee, which was of course a very significant moment. I remember when Arlene Foster went to the Creggan in Londonderry, stood side by side with Sinn Féin and said: “Your pain is our pain”. It was an incredible moment. The president of Sinn Féin responded by saying that these people were not going to drag Northern Ireland back into the dark days of violence, and she recommitted herself to the peace process.
A week later there was the incredible service in St Anne’s Cathedral, a memorial for Lyra McKee, in which Father Martin Magill asked why in the name of God it took the death of a brilliant 29 year-old woman to bring them all together under one roof. At the end of that powerful address, the entire cathedral, including the leaders of all the political parties, stood up to applaud that sentiment.
And yet—as I was going to say—still we wait and still we hope that this will be brought about. I hope and pray that the reports we are hearing of a possible restoration of the Assembly and formation of an Executive are true, not just for those of us in this place but for all the people of Northern Ireland and for the peace process, in which so many in this House have invested time, treasure and hope.