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Political Developments

Volume 536: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011

5. What assessment he has made of recent political developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (82809)

The political situation in Northern Ireland is now more stable than for a generation, but stability is not an end in itself. It is time for the Assembly and Executive to work towards building a prosperous Northern Ireland in which everyone has a genuinely shared future.

The Northern Ireland Executive have published a draft programme for government. Will my right hon. Friend comment on this development, and does he welcome what is happening in Northern Ireland?

I am delighted that after six months the draft programme has come forward, and I very much hope that the Executive will crack on in working with the Assembly to deliver its main elements as soon as possible.

One recent political development was that the Assembly agreed unanimously that the Secretary of State should convene talks to discuss how to deal with the issue of the past. Why, in the face of that consensus, does the Secretary of State refuse to do so?

That is a little unfair. Within a couple of days, I went to talk to the Speaker of the Assembly to discuss with him how best to address this issue, and I am now going to write to the leaders of all the main parties to discuss with their representatives how to take it forward. The sad problem regarding the past is that there is no consensus that we have detected. My right hon. Friend the Minister and I have been right round Northern Ireland talking to all sorts of groups involved with the past. Sadly, there is no consensus, but I will write to the parties and we will keep talking. This is very much an issue that has to be sorted out with local parties as well.

One thing on which the Secretary of State did take action in relation to the past was the Finucane issue. There was a widespread welcome in Northern Ireland for his decision to draw a line under that in the way that the Government did. Does he agree, therefore, that the decision of the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, to come to Northern Ireland last week and seek to reopen this issue and launch an international campaign is deeply unhelpful to north-south relations and invites comparisons with his attitude towards neutering the Smithwick inquiry, which is investigating the deaths of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The review into the Finucane case is going ahead. That is the decision of this Government, and we believe that it is the right one, as we inherited an impasse from the previous Government and called for an inquiry. We know that there are strong feelings in Dublin on this issue, and I have said privately and publicly that we recognise that they will state those differences publicly. I assure the right hon. Gentleman, however, that we will not let this issue in any way damage the excellent relations we have with the Government in Dublin.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. On another issue, does he recognise that the decision by the Sinn Fein lord mayor of Belfast this week to refuse to hand out a Duke of Edinburgh award to a young man because he was an Army cadet is deeply unhelpful in terms of community relations; that it stands in stark contrast to the First Minister’s vision, set out on Saturday, of an inclusive, forward-looking Northern Ireland; and that Sinn Fein’s action has deeply disturbed people right across the community?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The armed forces are a wonderful example of people from right across the community working together. I have on the wristband of the Royal Irish Regiment, which has representatives from right across Northern Ireland and the Republic and from 11 different nations. They set an example to us all of how we can work together. [Interruption.]

Order. A lot of noise has been taking place in the Chamber. That is very unfair on the Secretary of State, who is trying to give his answers in terms that can be heard and appreciated.