Devolved Institutions: Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons am ar 24 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Ceidwadwyr, Rother Valley

What recent assessment he has made of the impact of the restoration of devolved Government on Northern Ireland.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Ceidwadwyr, Bosworth

What assessment he has made of the impact of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Northern Ireland.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I am sure that my hon. Friends will welcome the fact that, once again, Northern Ireland has local politicians taking decisions in a local Assembly that is accountable to local people. With a funding package worth over £3 billion, the Executive are taking forward the vital work of public service transformation and delivering sustainable finances, and are ensuring better outcomes for the people of Northern Ireland in their daily lives. The impact of all this has been unbelievably positive.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Ceidwadwyr, Rother Valley

The commitment that this Government and my right hon. Friend have shown in pushing for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive is clearly demonstrated in the £3.3 billion for transforming public services, but what help are the home civil service providing to their colleagues in Northern Ireland to make sure that people there have the modern and efficient public services that they deserve, and how will that benefit all four nations?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I agree that there is a fantastic opportunity, which we are trying to take, for the UK Government to collaborate with and support the Northern Ireland Executive in transforming public services. The UK Government have high hopes that Ministers in the Executive will move quickly to deliver on their commitments to set up a transformation board, and we are excited to work with Northern Ireland Ministers to produce plans that will deliver transformation for Northern Ireland. Indeed, I met the First Minister and Deputy First Minister last week; we talked about this work and how we can further it in the very short term.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Ceidwadwyr, Bosworth

Does the Secretary of State agree that the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly provides the stability for further private investment in Northern Ireland? This is a massive opportunity; it is the missing piece in the puzzle, and could make a huge difference. How does he intend to capitalise on this?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The restoration of devolved government not only provides certainty and stability for business but allows us to harness our combined energies and expertise to make Northern Ireland a fantastic place to live, work and invest. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has reminded the House of the success of the Northern Ireland investment summit last September, which welcomed 180 business investors from around the world, and of our £617 million investment in Northern Ireland’s four city and growth deals. Recently I visited Washington DC with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and it is fair to say that the US business community is now well aware of the amazing opportunities in Northern Ireland and is looking at them hungrily.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The return of devolution has to be built on, particularly as there are still some issues to be resolved. While some in Northern Ireland concentrate on complaining about the outstanding problems, there are those of us who are committed to resolving them. The Secretary of State is in a better position than most to help to resolve them. Will he recommit today to our seeing further moves in the coming weeks in the direction of resolving all the outstanding issues?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his recent honour for his many years of elected public service in this place and to his constituents. Yes, he absolutely can have that commitment from me. I am committed to delivering at great pace on all the pledges we made in the Command Paper, and I am absolutely committed to delivering the best outcomes for everyone across Northern Ireland, because that is what Northern Ireland deserves.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley

Of course the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland is very welcome. The Minister will be aware that polling evidence has shown a big growth since the Good Friday agreement in the number of people who identify as Northern Irish, as distinct from Irish or British. What implications does that have for the way that devolved government conducts itself, going forward?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, because there is a genuinely interesting point about the growth in the number of people who live in Northern Ireland who declare themselves to be Northern Irish. I would like to think that it is reflected in the way that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister go about their business. They are working together in a respectful and positive way, respectful of each other’s communities, and wanting the best for the place they represent. I believe that signifies a healthy development for the future of Northern Ireland politics.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your eloquent tribute to Frank Field. He was a brave and a generous man.

We look forward to working with Gavin Robinson in his new position.

The UK’s successful bid to host the 2028 Euros with Ireland is a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland, but with just three years left to build the Casement Park stadium, the Executive have yet to invite tenders. In May last year, the Secretary of State was asked who would provide the money, and he replied:

“All partners. I guarantee it.”

Given that the clock is ticking, how and when does the right hon. Gentleman intend, with others, to honour that guarantee, so that the stadium gets built on time?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The right hon. Gentleman knows that he is asking that question of someone who has been a football referee for the last 43 years, and who is rather passionate about the game. I really want to see these Euro games played at Casement Park, and I have made that clear, but the latest costs that I have seen are significantly higher than the ones I saw a year ago, and any taxpayer contribution to the Casement Park project will need to be made on a value-for-money basis. I have also said many times that there is no blank cheque here, especially when there is no contractor appointed yet. We do not want to artificially inflate a price. The Northern Ireland Executive will also need to decide on whether and how they will underwrite any future increases in costs. As I said back then, all partners are working together to try to work out what the number is, and how we can deliver on it.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply.

One other challenge that the institutions face is dealing with the continuing legacy of the troubles. Seven days from now, all civil cases and inquests related to the troubles will come to an end under the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023, which is widely opposed in Northern Ireland. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that confidence in the new independent commission will be helped or hindered by the fact that it has recently brought three separate legal challenges to the disclosure by coroners of information to families about what happened to their loved ones—information that they have been denied for so many years?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The right hon. Gentleman conflates two issues. First, there are the ongoing elements of how we deal with public interest immunity and the “neither confirm nor deny” policy in court cases in Northern Ireland, and indeed across the United Kingdom. Secondly, there is the question about the new commission we are setting up to deal with legacy. I believe that even those with civil cases will be able to use the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery in good faith when it opens its doors on 1 May.

Only this month, the former co-chair of the Consultative Group on the Past, Denis Bradley, said that he thinks the people involved with the ICRIR

“are very good people, I have a lot of regard for them… And if people decide it offers them something, well then, I will be very reluctant to make too many strong judgments around it. Because”— this is the problem that the UK Government are trying to solve—

“we have created a swamp around legacy, a complete swamp. Anything that helps some people to get out of that swamp, I won’t be too critical.”

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business)

I add my party’s tribute to Frank Field. We send our condolences to his friends and family. He was Birkenhead’s MP for 40 years, and he was a very faithful servant not only to his constituents but to this place.

The return of devolved government to Northern Ireland has been rightly welcomed across this House. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm his Government’s commitment to the principle of consent, not just in Northern Ireland but in Scotland and Wales? The peoples of those places should be able to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, whether that happens to be inside or outside the United Kingdom.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s welcoming of the restored institutions. I am also a great respecter of referendum results, and I believe we had one in Scotland. That is probably enough said.