Jo Cox MP

Matter of the Day – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 20th June 2016.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 12:00 pm, 20th June 2016

Mr David Ford has been given leave to make a statement on the death of Jo Cox MP, which fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should do so by rising in their places and continuing to do so. All Members will have three minutes to speak on the subject. I remind Members that I will not take any points of order on this or any other matter until the item of business has been completed.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

Last Thursday, we were all shattered to hear the news that, in the early afternoon, a Member of Parliament had been attacked and then, in that rather sombre statement from the police, that she had died. It is right this morning that, as MPs prepare for an almost unprecedented sitting at Westminster, those of us in this democratically elected Chamber take time to pay our tribute to Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the remarks that you have already made about the letter that you have written on behalf of us all to the Speaker of the House of Commons. I am sure that that action will be endorsed by everybody here today.

Of course, Jo Cox was much more than an MP. As you have just said, she was a much-loved daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend, and her death has clearly touched a very wide circle in her constituency and far beyond. The circumstances of the death are well known and do not need to be rehearsed in detail: a Member of Parliament shot and stabbed outside a library where she regularly held a constituency surgery, meeting the needs of her constituents. That is the norm for public representatives in every part of the UK.

What has emerged since that tragedy is that Jo Cox was a very exceptional person. Although she had entered Parliament only last year, she had already established a very strong reputation and made a very considerable impression on her fellow MPs through her courage, compassion and commitment. That came following a route to Westminster that was not the easy route taken by some, of working for the party and then inheriting a safe seat. She had a substantial career, in which she worked on behalf of some of the world's poorest people in her capacity for Oxfam, where she campaigned on Syria and worked with people in Sudan, and she had a very significant effect on public opinion and on the formation of public policy. I believe that she then showed all that is best in politics. It was her wish and desire to serve her own neighbours: the people of the constituency in which she lived, where she had her roots and where she had been brought up. That perhaps made her more approachable than some MPs, but it may also, tragically, have made her more vulnerable.

Too many public representatives are subject to a tide of vilification for the work that they do, and it seems to be an issue that particularly affects women in public life, who are subjected to torrents of abuse from men who feel that they have some sort of right to spew out hatred. We need to recognise what has happened in this context.

Finally, let us remember the words of her husband when he paid tribute and said:

"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her."

That would be a real, living tribute to her.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

This is a very sad day for politics in the United Kingdom. I join others in thanking you, Mr Speaker, for the action that you have already taken in conveying to the Speaker of the House of Commons our deepest sympathy to her colleagues there.

The murder of Jo Cox was shocking. It was undoubtedly a tragic event that will live long in the memory. Thankfully, the murder of a Member of Parliament is a rare event, but we feel the loss all the more because of that. Outside of the murders carried out by Irish republicans in connection with the Troubles in Northern Ireland, this was the first murder of a Member of Parliament since 1812. Perhaps nowhere more than in Northern Ireland, we on all sides of the House understand the pain of the loss of a colleague, whether as Members of the Westminster Parliament, the old Stormont Parliament or those more broadly involved in politics in Northern Ireland. Although the threat to those involved in politics here is not what it once was, we must all still remain vigilant. However, we must never close our doors to those who elect us or become detached from those who send us here.

Last Thursday was a dark day for politics because it was an attack on the whole democratic process, but, of course, it was, above all, a tragedy for Jo Cox's family and close friends. We especially remember her husband Brendan and her two young children.

I did not know Jo Cox personally, but it is clear from the many tributes to her and from talking to some of my Westminster parliamentary colleagues that she was a remarkable individual and was going to have a very strong, maybe even exceptional, career. Our prayers and sympathy go out to all those who knew Jo Cox personally in the difficult days that lie ahead.

Jo's murder serves as a timely reminder to all of us involved in politics that, despite the differences that we may have on one issue or another, there are values that are shared across the political spectrum and that we must never lose that thing that unites us. That was something very clear that came from her husband.

We owe it to her and to ourselves to conduct ourselves in a manner that is consistent with the best traditions of democracy. That does not mean that we should not argue or differ, but it does mean that we should do so in a more respectful tone than is sometimes the case. When I took over as First Minister, I made a call for us to do politics differently. We have made progress, but let this event help us to redouble our efforts in Northern Ireland.

On this day, let us remember the words of President Kennedy that civility is not a sign of weakness and remember that this dreadful event can bring a new civility to politics and not just for a few days. It can be seen as a new start in how politics is done.

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

First, Mr Speaker, I thank you for giving us the opportunity to say a few words on the terrible murder of Jo Cox. I also thank you for writing, on behalf of all of us, to the Speaker of the House of Commons, expressing our deepest sympathies and condolences to her colleagues at Westminster.

Obviously, in the first instance, when a terrible event like this happens, we think of the family. We think of her husband Brendan, her two children, her parents, her sister and the wider family circle. I am sure the deepest sympathies and condolences of all Members go out to them at this tragic time. I also extend sympathy to the Labour Party, to her party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and all those in the Labour Party who had huge respect for Jo.

She obviously was an exceptional person, and to be killed in the way that she was killed was a total contradiction to the goodness and energy that she displayed through her work for some of the most underprivileged people, not just in her constituency but throughout the world. She was an internationalist, she was a feminist and she worked at the coalface with Oxfam with many people who had suffered as a result of conflict. For her to be killed in this way is absolutely terrible.

I also thank you for referring to the fact that, in our own circumstances over many years, elected representatives from parties on all sides of this House also lost their lives. That was the case for my party more than any other party in this Assembly.

All of this has to serve to inspire all of us to ensure, particularly given what we came through during the conflict here, that we continue to work together with a positive and constructive spirit and in a spirit of generosity with each other to ensure that we continue to move forward and be an example, as we have been, to those involved in the resolution of many conflict situations throughout the world.

This has been a very tragic event, but it is quite clear that the outpouring of grief, respect and sympathy for Jo Cox and her family shows that love will win out over hate in the end.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 12:15 pm, 20th June 2016

I did not know Jo Cox. I would not pretend to have known much about her work as a Member of Parliament or previously with NGOs and on causes, but it is impossible not to be deeply impressed by what one has read and heard about that work from the many tributes and obituaries since Thursday's terrible, terrible events. That said, this is, first and foremost, a personal and family tragedy. As with the other speakers, my thoughts and prayers are with the two young girls and her husband, Brendan, whose words were so swift, so assured and so inspiring that it was difficult not to think of Gordon Wilson in the aftermath of the Enniskillen bombing.

As well as being a personal and family tragedy, it was an attack on democracy. It would be remiss not to remember those who have lost their life as democrats in this country. Jo Cox was the first female MP, as I understand it, to be murdered. Robert Bradford, of course, was the first Northern Irish MP to be murdered during the Troubles. In November 1981, he was doing what Jo Cox was trying to do last Thursday: serving his constituents by holding a surgery in a community centre in Finaghy in Belfast. He was gunned down, along with, I believe, a council worker from that community centre who was also murdered on that very black day. Of course, he was not the only Ulster Unionist to die, but no party has a monopoly on the death of elected politicians during our Troubles. Sadly, we know only too well what it is like to see others attack the democratic process.

The best thing we can do to honour the memory of Jo Cox is to reaffirm ourselves to exclusively peaceful means and to recognise that, in a democracy, you will hear things you do not want to hear and see things you maybe do not want to see but the way to fix that is not through violence or murder but through persuasion, debate, belief in your cause and promoting it in an exclusively democratic manner.

Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party, I thank you for contacting the Speaker at Westminster. I totally affirm the sentiment and condolences that you have expressed on our behalf.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for the action you took to send our condolences to the Westminster Parliament. I add my condolences and those of my party and send them to Jo Cox's family, friends, constituents and party. I think we have all been moved by the manner of her death but, I think, even more so by the way in which she lived her life. Jo Cox was an internationalist, a human rights defender and a loud and determined advocate and voice for the voiceless. I think the best legacy she could ever have hoped to leave would be a whole new generation of people inspired to care about and campaign for the rights of the downtrodden.

It was sad this morning to listen on RTÉ radio to Mairead McGuinness and Joan Burton talking about the online and sometimes physical abuse that many of our colleagues across this island and across these islands — many of them women — have had to suffer from online trolls. I think of Máiría Cahill and other people who, every morning, wake up to a tirade of abuse. If there is anything we should do as a result of the murder, we should put our face against that type of activity. Nobody in our society who puts their name and puts themselves forward to do public good and to represent their constituents should have to face that level of abuse. All of us in the House need to send out that message very clearly today. I wish and hope that Jo Cox's family are able to find some comfort in the outpouring of support they have received in the last number of days.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Like others in the Chamber, I did not have the privilege of knowing Jo Cox, but I have listened over the past few days and heard about her legacy and the work she carried out. I feel inspired that people such as Jo Cox put themselves forward for public life and that they can come forward and see value in every human being. I extend the deepest condolences of the Green Party to Jo's family, particularly to her husband Brendan and her two young children, who have shown tremendous strength and bravery in the face of such horror.

Jo was brutally murdered in her constituency while carrying out her duties on Thursday, and it was a direct attack on democracy. We, in Northern Ireland, are no strangers to such actions and intimidation, and I am glad that so many people are standing up in sympathy with Jo's family and expressing condolence along with everyone in Westminster. There has been talk about the reasons why this has happened, but we should all be aware and, for today, take a lead from Jo's family and focus on that which unites us and not that which divides us.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I offer our sympathy and solidarity to Jo Cox's family on her tragic killing. There has been an outpouring of grief across these islands at the tragedy. There has also been a big outpouring of grief and sympathy from people in Gaza and Palestine, a cause that Jo Cox firmly supported, and among those campaigning for Syrian refugees. Jo was a friend of refugees and campaigned in support of those who are fleeing war, poverty and destruction. It is important and appropriate on this day — World Refugee Day — to remember and commend the important campaigning work done by Jo in the field. As Jo's husband said after her tragic killing, we need to unite against hate, and her death shows the dangers of hatred and the dangers of the far right and those linked to far-right and fascist organisations. It is a reminder to us about the job that we still have to do to combat fear and racism and the challenges that we face in combating those who want to whip up fear and hatred against migrants and refugees.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

This was a chilling and a gruesome murder that has robbed our nation of what appears to have been a very able and blossoming parliamentarian, and our nation will be the poorer for that. It is an assault on the democratic process, and, as a component of that, here in this part of the kingdom, we feel that too. Above all, this is the loss of a loving mother to two small children aged five and three, the same ages as my own grandchildren, and I can well imagine the unspeakable devastation of the loss of their mother. Whatever else we think of, I am sure that each of us is thinking, first and foremost, of a grieving husband and bereft children at the hands of wickedness.

Mr Nesbitt referred to the fact that we have empathy from our experience of having an MP from our own shores gunned down doing the same public service as Jo Cox. Robert Bradford, while serving his constituents at a surgery, was brutally cut down by gunmen who have never been brought to justice. I trust that all who today empathise and express sympathy about Jo Cox have done all that they can to bring to justice the murderers of Robert Bradford. Some, in the past, have saluted and glorified in such terror. Last Thursday's events are a salient reminder of how wrong that road is. I trust that there will emerge from this a respect for human life that, hitherto, some have not had and that this will not be a brutal killing that is misused, as some journalists have misused it, for political purposes.

This is a tragedy beyond measure for Parliament and for family, and it should not be exploited beyond that.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I first learned of the brutal murder of Jo Cox from my wife. She spoke to me as a spouse with some experience of intimidation and threat. Perhaps because I learned of it, first, from my wife, first and foremost in my thoughts have been Jo's husband, Brendan, and her children and family, and they will continue to be foremost in my thoughts and prayers at this time.

It is clear that Jo Cox was a brave and courageous woman, dearly loved by her husband, children, family and colleagues. She was passionate about her family, her constituents and the values for which she stood: tolerance, inclusion, social and international justice and compassion over hate. It is clear that she dedicated her life to the now urgent challenge of extinguishing hate-inflaming myth-making in our community, particularly around the issue of immigration. I heard it said this week that we have to be inspired by her courageous and compassionate life rather than intimidated by the evil and hate that caused her death. It was an attack on not only Jo, but her values and representative democracy, and we, therefore, have to heed the courageous and dignified call of her husband, Brendan, to unite against hate in her memory.