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Haass Process

Volume 578: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014

I have been working with Northern Ireland’s political leadership to support and encourage progress on flags, parades and the past. It is important to find an agreed way forward on these issues in order to underpin political stability, support economic renewal and overcome community division.

Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that she still believes a positive outcome from the ongoing all-party talks will be reached, and is she fully engaged in trying to make that happen?

I am fully engaged in trying to make that happen, and I remain optimistic that an agreed way forward can be found. The party leaders continue to meet. The speeches made by the Deputy First Minister and First Minister in Washington on these matters were very clear that both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party were determined to find a way forward. The on-the-runs crisis has set things back, but I know that the party leaders continue to work. It is a pity that the Ulster Unionist party has pulled out, and I urge it to come back to the table.

Does the Secretary of State accept that if the process begun by Richard Haass is to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, party leaders and parties in Northern Ireland will require the active hands-on support of both the British and Irish Governments—namely, her good self and the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore?

They certainly will need the support and encouragement of both Governments. I can assure the House that they very definitely have that, and that was confirmed in my discussions with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on Monday. We are committed to this process and we want to see it succeed. If we have learned anything from the events of recent days, it is the importance of a balanced, transparent and accountable process to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.

The Secretary of State referred to the party leaders meeting, and of course they are meeting, with the exception of the Ulster Unionist leader. We should encourage progress in those discussions because many people want to see those issues addressed and resolved so that we can get on and deal not just with the past, but with the present and the future.

The hon. Gentleman is right. Resolving these issues or finding an agreed way forward will enable further efforts and energies to be concentrated on pensions, the economy and so on. There is a real opportunity here. A lot of good work was done under the auspices of Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, not least by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) as part of the negotiations under Richard Haass.

11. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of any need for legislation to implement any possible agreement on Haass? (903403)

As we are currently advised, structures of the sort proposed by Richard Haass in draft document No. 7 would not need Westminster legislation, apart from a fairly straightforward devolution of responsibilities for parading. Some of the issues are quite complex, and we would work with the Northern Ireland Executive, once there was an agreement, to see whether further legislation might be needed in Westminster.

I call Sammy Wilson. No? Mr Wilson had signalled an interest, but never mind—we will hear from him another day.

Does the Secretary of State agree that following the local and European elections and the conclusion of the judge-led inquiry into on-the-runs at the end of May, all Northern Ireland parties should see it as their top priority to reach a speedy agreement on the issues covered by the Haass talks? Three years of elections in Northern Ireland cannot lead to permanent political logjam.

I certainly agree with the shadow Secretary of State. We have a crucial opportunity, which I hope the party leaders will seize. We are on the eve of a new parading season. The next few weeks will be crucial. I very much welcome the fact that the party leaders are continuing their discussions and will do so throughout most of the election period. It is crucial that we find a way forward on these matters and the crisis surrounding OTRs only makes the case more strongly for a solution on the past.