As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said in their joint statement, the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland has never been stronger or more settled. We particularly value the co-operation that we have received from the Irish Government and the Garda on security matters.
The Secretary of State will know that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister recently announced that all-party talks would take place, under an independent chair, on a range of outstanding issues, including parading, flags, and dealing with the past. These are due to commence soon and to finish by the end of the year. Does she agree that both Governments have a vital role to play in these talks and in helping all the parties to find agreement on these vital issues?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that both Governments have warmly welcomed the announcement of that group; it is very timely that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have proposed it. I am delighted to tell the House that an independent chair has been confirmed—the eminent Richard Haass from the United States will take on that role. As we will see in forthcoming days, this demonstrates once again the importance of looking at long-term devolved solutions on matters such as flags and parading.
The inability of the National Crime Agency to operate in Northern Ireland is a serious impediment to the fight against organised crime, trafficking, paedophile rings and terrorism on both sides of the border. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Irish Justice Minister and the Northern Ireland parties to sort this out?
I have had a number of discussions of that sort, and I can provide some reassurance. The NCA will be able to operate in Northern Ireland in relation to matters that are not devolved, including border controls, human trafficking issues, and matters to do with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, so it will have a role there. It can also provide advice and support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in relation to devolved matters. Although it will not be operational on the ground, it can still provide a resource to assist the PSNI. I will continue to work with the Northern Ireland parties to see whether we can make the NCA’s role in Northern Ireland the same as it is elsewhere in the UK.
Given that we recently lent the Republic of Ireland billions of pounds to help it through its financial difficulties, to what extent are the Irish Government helping us to renegotiate our terms of membership with the European Union?
The UK and the Republic of Ireland do have many useful occasions to co-operate on European matters. The Republic of Ireland certainly has a different view from the UK Government on further integration, but on commercial matters—single market matters—we work well together.
Given all her discussions with the various parties that she has to speak to, the Secretary of State will be aware of the perverse decision made last night by the Parades Commission, which has rewarded bad behaviour and punished good behaviour in relation to parading. What is she going to do about it?
I am working closely with the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister in their preparations to do everything they can to secure a peaceful 12 July. I believe it is important for everyone in this House and the Northern Ireland political parties to call on all concerned to work for a peaceful 12 July. It would be hugely damaging to Northern Ireland if the good news from the G8 were blighted by scenes of rioting on the streets of north Belfast.
We want to see that peaceful situation continue. We do not want to see any trouble on our streets. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Parades Commission has made the situation immensely worse and created severe tensions? Last year republicans brought out machine guns and attacked and shot at police, while Unionists and loyalists behaved impeccably. Republicans have been rewarded; Unionists have been punished. How on earth does the Secretary of State expect people to react in such a situation? Is it not time for the Parades Commission to be replaced by something more sensible?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has strong views on these matters, and the fact that these events relate directly to his constituency give him an important say on them. I recognise the anger in parts of the loyalist community about this decision, but it is vital that people recognise that the Parades Commission is the lawfully constituted authority. Respect for the rule of law is crucial. It would be immensely damaging to Northern Ireland if we had a violent 12 July. Whatever people think of the Parades Commission’s determination, I hope they will listen to the statement made yesterday by all five party leaders on the importance of the rule of law and a peaceful 12 July and comply with the commission’s determination.
15. Now that the Home Secretary has decided that she is in favour of the European arrest warrant, will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland arrange an early discussion with the Home Secretary’s Irish counterpart on how to make the warrant process less bureaucratic and a more effective weapon in the fight against organised crime north and south of the border? (163474)
I have had a number of useful discussions with Alan Shatter about this matter and how the Republic of Ireland views it. Discussions are taking place between Home Office Ministers and the Irish Justice Minister. I am sure they will continue as part of the Home Secretary’s efforts to ensure we reform and improve the way in which the arrest warrant works.
12. On economic co-operation, the British-Irish Council helps increase trade and boost growth between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. What more can the Secretary of State do to boost the maximum level of economic co-operation between nations right across these islands? (163471)
The recent meeting of the British-Irish Council produced some very useful conclusions on matters such as energy and the creative industries, and the Prime Minister used the G8 to strengthen relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. He very much welcomed the Taoiseach’s input to the G8 discussions. We are determined to continue to maximise the benefits that come from the G8 in terms of economic activity in Northern Ireland and future friendly relations with the Republic of Ireland.