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Northern Ireland Update

Volume 629: debated on Monday 9 October 2017

The DUP and Sinn Fein continue their discussions towards the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. The parties have reduced the number of issues between them—including on some aspects of language and culture—but clear differences still remain. The Government are committed to continuing to work with all the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government, consistent with the three-stranded approach, towards reaching agreement quickly. I have been in regular contact with party leaders and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and will have further meetings in Belfast this week. The Prime Minister has been actively involved throughout this process. This has included her recent meeting with the Taoiseach and discussions with the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein. She shares the high priority which I place on the Government being ready and willing to work tirelessly to support the restoration of the Northern Ireland devolved institutions.

It is crucial that, with this support, the parties continue to do their utmost to reach an agreement which allows them to make those decisions which are important to the people of Northern Ireland. The parties have shown leadership and the ability to look beyond their differences in the past to resolve significant challenges which have separated them. I have urged the parties to focus their remaining efforts and energies on closing the outstanding gaps swiftly to find a resolution which will pave the way for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. With the right spirit of compromise this can be achieved and now is the time to come together and reach agreement.

I stand ready to bring forward legislation to enable an Executive to be formed quickly once agreement has been reached. But the timeframe for this is not indefinite. As Secretary of State, I have a responsibility for good governance and political stability in Northern Ireland—which has now been without a full Executive for 10 months. If devolved Government is not restored in the next few weeks, I will consider carefully what steps are needed in the best interests of the people, the voluntary sector, public services and businesses in Northern Ireland. As a minimum, this would involve introducing legislation later this month to set a budget for 2017-18 putting Northern Ireland on a path towards greater UK Government intervention in its day to day affairs.

We are not at this point yet. It is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and its people to have strategic decisions taken by locally elected politicians in the interests of the whole community. That is why the Government remain resolute in their efforts with the parties to secure the outcome which a majority of Northern Ireland want and need: the restoration of devolution. Ultimately, it is for the parties to reach agreement, but Northern Ireland has come so far and I encourage the parties to keep this firmly in mind as they work towards finding that resolution.