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Political Developments

Volume 623: debated on Wednesday 15 March 2017

Nearly 65% of the Northern Ireland electorate voted for continued devolved government. I have seen that endorsed over the past 10 days in a shared willingness among the parties to engage in intensive discussions, acknowledging what is at stake if an Executive are not formed. These are still significant challenges, but I believe that with continued positive intent we can secure a resolution that sees devolved government resumed.

I welcome that answer from my right hon. Friend, just as I welcome the economic success story that is the Northern Irish economy over the past few years. Does he agree that a key part of that success has been effective, stable power-sharing government, which is another reason for all parties to resolve this situation as swiftly as possible?

I do recognise that, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight some of the important successes in the Northern Ireland economy. The labour market survey statistics that are out today show 56,000 more jobs since 2010 in Northern Ireland, which highlights what has been achieved and what can be achieved in future with a strong Executive in place.

I wish my right hon. Friend well in the discussions taking place in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that, whatever issues need to be overcome, devolved government within the UK remains by far and away the best option for Northern Ireland?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The public voted overwhelmingly and clearly, with that increased turnout, for devolved government be put back in place, delivering for Northern Ireland, and I am determined to see that, too.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the result of the Assembly election demonstrates the desire of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland for strong and stable devolved government?

Yes, I do. That stability is able to bring about further positive change in Northern Ireland, with further foreign direct investment and more jobs being created. That is what I strongly support, and I know that vision is also shared by the parties.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in all their discussions the Government will maintain their full support for the Belfast agreement and its successors, including, crucially, the principle that Northern Ireland’s position within the Union will always be determined by the principle of consent?

I am happy to confirm that. We stand four-square behind our commitments under the Belfast agreement, with the principle of consent being a firm part of that. I am also clear about the support that we see for the continuing institutions and structures, and giving effect to that.

13. May I offer my condolences to those who lost their lives this week, particularly those in the Irish Coast Guard, who do so much good work in the north, particularly in my constituency? Brexit is a crucial factor in the current political landscape in Northern Ireland and should be part of the ongoing talks process. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the issue of single status, where we do not go back to any borders of the past, is a feature of these talks? (909183)

I echo the hon. Lady’s comments about those who lost their lives. We recognise Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances—its economy, geography and history—and will ensure that they are properly taken into account as we prepare for EU exit. We want to ensure that those issues are properly reflected in the negotiations ahead so that we get the best possible deal for Northern Ireland.

What does the Secretary of State see as the greatest stumbling blocks in the current talks? How confident is he that a deal will be established by 27 March?

As I have indicated, I think a deal can be achieved with good will and a real sense of urgency in the discussions ahead. Issues still need to be overcome, and as I have already said, it would not be constructive to provide a running narrative. I urge people to continue to engage and to be involved in those intensive talks, because that is how we will get a positive result.

I too express my condolences to the family of my constituent Mr Gilmore, who was murdered by paramilitaries this week. Given the attitude Sinn Féin have adopted regarding whom they will accept as First Minister, the role of the Secretary of State in talks and their desire to have soldiers and policemen prosecuted in the courts, does the Secretary of State believe there is much chance of success in the talks? If not, will he move quickly to fill the budget gap left by the Sinn Féin Finance Minister?

This remains doable—that is the important message we need to underline. Yes, of course, time is short, and yes, there is a range of issues that still need to be discussed and agreed on, but there is need for positive intent on all sides, which will be the best way to get the right outcome.

Order. These are extremely serious matters affecting Northern Ireland, the people of which might think it a tad discourteous if we do not have an attentive hearing for colleagues. Let us have an attentive hearing for Theresa Villiers.

The Government and the police have disclosed unprecedented amounts of information about the troubles, some of it extremely sensitive. Does the Secretary of State agree that some information is so sensitive that it can never go into the public domain because if it did, it would put lives at risk?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. With all her experience as the previous Secretary of State, she knows the sensitivity and importance of issues of national security, which remains the primary responsibility of the UK Government. In our actions, we will certainly continue to have that at the forefront of our mind.