Good progress has been made on implementing the agreements. This includes legislation on welfare reform, a joint agency taskforce to tackle crime, an Executive strategy to disband paramilitary groups and an independent reporting commission to report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity.
Both agreements contain important provisions to place the finances of the Northern Ireland Executive on a sustainable footing, which is vital to the continued economic success of Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State enlarge on progress in these specific areas?
I think that we have made significant progress. Considering the position this time last year, there have been important steps forward, but there are still additional steps to be taken, including the establishment of an independent fiscal council to publish an annual report on the Executive’s finances and to give further assurance on progress.
May I associate myself and my colleagues with the tributes paid to Austin Hunter and to Danny Murphy?
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will not allow the Stormont House and “Fresh Start” agreements to be unpicked? Crucially, in relation to legacy issues, will he hold fast on national security and not allow those who want to rewrite the history of the past to do so?
I am very clear on the need to continue to make progress in relation to Stormont House and “Fresh Start”. There have been significant steps forward. Equally, though, I will not be party to a rewriting of the issues of the past, and that is why a proportionate approach is required.
Part of the Stormont House agreement involves the legacy issues. Almost weekly, news items prejudice up-and-coming cases by giving just one side of the story. Will the Secretary of State take action so that we do not have future cases prejudiced by stories in the newspapers, or will he pause the legacy issues?
It is important that the rule of law is clearly upheld and that appropriate investigations are undertaken. However, I make the point that I made earlier about the imbalance within the existing system: 90% of those who lost their lives lost them as a consequence of terrorism. That is why the new bodies are important to deliver a balanced, proportionate approach.