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Political Situation

Volume 628: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2017

Northern Ireland remains without a fully functioning, power-sharing devolved Government. Our clear and resolute focus is to re-establish devolved government at Stormont. Together with the Irish Government, we are continuing to support the parties’ efforts to find resolution and form an Executive. However, time is short and I urge the parties to continue to work to reach agreement.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, as I thank him, as I hope would all Members, for his clear determination, commitment and hard work in the cause of seeking a return to the power-sharing devolved Administration we all wish to see. With that in mind, does he share my view that it is vital that all parties in Northern Ireland continue to approach these discussions in a spirit of compromise and co-operation, with our eyes firmly fixed on the need to secure agreement?

I agree with my hon. Friend on the intent that we must have and the approach to be taken. Clearly, we will do all that we can to support the parties in the days ahead. The time for action is now. I stress that we are seeing engagement between the DUP and Sinn Féin. I have been encouraged by the nature of the intensive engagement that they have shown, but agreement has not been reached. A high number of issues remain outstanding and we must focus on finding that resolution and seeing devolved government restored.

The Prime Minister has been making phone calls, but does she have a date in her diary to make an extended visit to Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady is right; the Prime Minister has been engaged, and she spoke to the party leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin last night and underlined the need to be constructive in discussions and to find that resolution. She will remain closely engaged and will play whatever role is needed to support and find that positive outcome.

While it lacks its 10 political members, the Northern Ireland Policing Board remains severely constrained. Although I hope that my right hon. Friend’s efforts bear fruit, in the event that the Executive are not restored, what contingency plans does he have to enable the Policing Board to function effectively?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place and to his position as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. I wish him and members of that Committee positive and fruitful endeavours in their work and I look forward to giving evidence to his Committee soon. He makes an important point about the important role of the Policing Board. I am not going to speculate about other options. He highlights the significance—the importance—of the issues that are at stake, and why it is so very important to see an Executive restored.

The Prime Minister has been in touch with party leaders in Northern Ireland in recent hours and she will have heard from our party leader a total commitment to restoring devolution immediately, with no red lines or preconditions, to get on with the job of dealing with health, education, jobs and investment in Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State indicate whether Sinn Féin continues to adhere to the view that these matters are not as important as seeking the fulfilment of partisan political demands, or whether any progress has been made on that front?

I welcome the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of his party, and indeed the comments that Arlene Foster has made about seeing that desire to get back into an Executive. I would also point to the comments of Michelle O’Neill, who has said that she believes that, while there are difficulties, a deal is still doable. I would certainly encourage the right hon. Gentleman and his party to engage in the way that they have, and encourage all parties to have that focus on seeing devolution restored.

I thank the Secretary of State. Certainly we will continue to engage intensively in those political talks. Northern Ireland needs a devolved Government and it needs its Executive, not least to deal, for instance, with one of the issues on the horizon—jobs in the Bombardier plant in Belfast. I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for the work that they are doing on that already, and I urge him to remain fully committed and involved with us to ensure that those jobs are safeguarded.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are a number of issues that would clearly benefit from having an Executive with local decision making by locally elected politicians. He highlights the issue of Bombardier. While this is a commercial matter, as he knows, the UK Government are working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier’s operations and its highly skilled workforce in Belfast. I remain in close contact with the Business Secretary. He has had extensive engagement with Boeing, Bombardier and the Canadian and US Governments, and the right hon. Gentleman knows about the Prime Minister’s engagement, too.