“Mr Speaker, prior to Christmas the UK Government initiated a period of political talks to get Stormont back up and running in Northern Ireland. Following nine months of negotiation 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 that text available to the public. The document, entitled New Decade, New Approach, sets out what we assessed to be a fair and balanced deal based on all the discussions between ourselves and the parties and 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 parties accepted this deal as a basis to re-enter devolved government. Ministers have been appointed, an Executive have been formed and the Assembly is open for business. Devolution is restored in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister visited the Assembly and met with the Executive on Monday to mark the positive moment of restored devolved government.
I know the whole House will join with me in welcoming and celebrating the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland, and will join me in congratulating party leaders on their confident decision to make this happen. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my team and the UK Civil Service for the months of work to make this deal happen. I would also like to put on record the debt that I owe to my two predecessors: my right honourable friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands, Karen Bradley, and my right honourable friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, James Brokenshire.
The Good Friday agreement, signed over 20 years ago, brought with it an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and growth for Northern Ireland. That progress, however, always has 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 the people of Northern Ireland 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; it 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 EU. It solves outstanding cases which have been causing real concern to families, so that all people of Northern Ireland are treated in the same way when bringing family members to this country, akin to Irish citizens in Great Britain.
Yesterday, the Government also announced that we will provide the restored Executive with a £2 billion financial package that will deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and support delivery of the deal. The UK Government’s financial commitment represents the biggest injection of new money in a Northern Ireland talks deal in well over a decade. The funding has already allowed the Executive to pledge to deliver pay parity for nurses in Northern Ireland—the first such intervention in a devolved area—and it will continue to support the Executive to deliver on the priorities for the people of Northern Ireland.
Provided over five years, it will include a guarantee of at least £1 billion of Barnett-based funding to turbocharge infrastructure investment, alongside £1 billion of new resource and capital spending. This will include significant new funding of around £245 million of support for the transformation of public services, including transformation across 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 resolve the nurses pay dispute immediately and deliver pay parity.
Alongside this, the UK Government will ring-fence £45 million of capital and provide resource funding to deliver a Northern Ireland graduate entry medical school in Derry/Londonderry, subject to executive approval. The UK Government will also provide £50 million over two years to support the rollout of ultra low emission public transport, and the agreement will also provide £140 million to address Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. The money will help to strengthen our union and will support the four key areas set out in New Decade, New Approach.
I hope the whole House will join me in welcoming this announcement. I commend this Statement to the House.”