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Peace and Reconciliation

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2019

May I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about Bloody Sunday? The shadow Secretary of State has pre-empted me, but I too have a debt of gratitude to George Hamilton, the Chief Constable of the PSNI.

The Government fully support efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I was pleased to announce earlier this month that about £300 million of UK Government funding will be committed to projects to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland between 2021 and 2027.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that no discussion of peace and reconciliation can take place without considering the plight of Northern Ireland veterans, both police and military, who put their lives on the line for their country? Will she assure the House that she personally will do all she can to draw a line under these investigations, which breach the military covenant and our pledge to police forces in the UK?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner on these matters. He will know from the extensive discussions we have had that I am committed to delivering on the legacy proposals that were first agreed in the Stormont House talks and on which we have had a consultation. I look forward to working with him further on those matters.

From Caroline O’Hanlon to Carl Frampton, we know the ability of great Ulster sportsmen and women to bring people together. May I ask the Secretary of State about the curriculum sports programme? It receives £1.2 million of funding each year to provide Gaelic football, hurling and soccer coaching in 450 schools in Northern Ireland. That funding has been cut. Will she restore it to bring sport back to the people in all those communities?

The hon. Gentleman has campaigned on this matter. I know he is very keen to make sure that this funding is maintained. He makes a point about the fact that we do not have devolved government, which we will come on to later during questions. We do need Ministers in Northern Ireland to make those important decisions, because the example he raises is a very good one.

The recent events in Derry/Londonderry clearly showed that the peace we have in Northern Ireland is still fragile at times. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as the Brexit process progresses, it is crucial that politicians on both sides of the border and indeed in this House use language that is measured rather than inflammatory?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We all need to be careful in our language at this very fragile time.

The Secretary of State will recall the excellent work of the centenary committee that oversaw the world war one commemorations in Northern Ireland and sought to promote reconciliation through its work. As we look towards celebrating the centenary of Northern Ireland—this landmark in our history—will the Secretary of State assure me that she will work with us to do the same?

The success of the world war one commemorations in Northern Ireland was very much down to the right hon. Gentleman’s hard work in ensuring that all parts of the community came together. I think we saw a real moment in St Anne’s cathedral in November, when all parts of the community and the Irish Government came together with the UK Government to recognise what happened 100 years ago. I know he is very keen and we have met to discuss the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland, and we are working with him on it.

To promote peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm that, after Brexit, British and Irish citizens will of course continue to be able to cross freely the Irish border in accordance with the common travel area? Will the Secretary of State confirm that technological solutions are being looked at to ease the flow of other EU nationals across the Irish border?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the common travel area is a very important foundation of the lives of those in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and it of course predates our membership of the EU. We are absolutely committed to ensuring the common travel area continues. We want to see that, and it is a very important point.