Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:37 pm on 18 May 2023.

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Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 12:37, 18 May 2023

I do not think that in any way alters the position that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness will recall, because she comes from Northern Ireland and lived the early part of her life there, that there has always been a difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain in certain respects. For example, livestock and agriculture have always had to be checked as they came across the Irish Sea, for various reasons. There was a separate Government for decades in Northern Ireland which imposed various restrictions, but that in no way affected the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, so long as the people in Northern Ireland decide it should be. I do not underestimate the problems that have arisen, frankly because of Brexit. Without Brexit, this dilemma would not be in front of us, but we have to live with it. It seems to me that the Windsor agreement is a good start.

There are elections today in Northern Ireland. We will not know the outcome for another day or so. The marching season will soon be upon us. The recess is not far away. However, that should not stop the Government from planning for proper structured negotiations with the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, so far as they affect the agreement. There should be a big role for the Prime Minister in the weeks and months ahead to work with parties in Northern Ireland to get a settlement. Despite the problems which we have had in Northern Ireland over the last two years regarding the protocol and the difficulties about the suspension of the institutions, there is no doubt from when we celebrated the Good Friday agreement some weeks ago in Belfast and elsewhere—and I do mean celebrated—that there has been a huge change. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, said quite rightly that, tragically, there have been 150 deaths in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years, mainly as a result of terrorism. However, that must be set against the 3,500 people who perished in the 25 years before the Good Friday agreement. That is the real measure of where we are in Northern Ireland.