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Good Friday Agreement: Implementation

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2020

The Government remain steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and we will continue to support the institutions in delivering peace and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland. A key institution created as a result of the agreement is the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was restored this year following the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement in January. The best way forward for Northern Ireland lies in strong devolved institutions that support the Executive and Assembly to deliver on the issues that matter to the people of Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday agreement comes of age today, as it became effective 21 years ago. It provided a platform for the development of excellent economic and social relationships between Northern Ireland and Merseyside. What conversations has the Secretary of State had to ensure that nothing that happens in the next month puts that progress at risk?

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. That is exactly what the clauses in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill are about—ensuring that businesses in Northern Ireland continue to trade as part of the United Kingdom with unfettered access, which is of benefit to companies in Liverpool, so I hope she will support the Bill when it comes back to the House.

Last week alone, three journalists were issued with violent threats by loyalist paramilitaries. The BBC has seen evidence that loyalist paramilitary groups have over 12,500 members, and there are more dissident groups than during the troubles. Does the Secretary of State agree that a toxic combination of deprivation and a failure to deal with the legacy of the past has created a fertile breeding ground for paramilitary groups?

I am sure the hon. Lady would agree with me that obviously there is no place for violence or threats of any description to anybody in Northern Ireland, including media and political players in Northern Ireland. It is completely unacceptable. There is no excuse for it, and actually arguing that it is in any way acceptable because of any other particular issue is, I think, a fallacy and the wrong position to take. I have to say that we are making huge investments. There has obviously been about £20 billion for the Northern Ireland Executive this year, between the block grant and the extra support that the UK Government have put in, on top of having what are financially the biggest city and growth deals in the United Kingdom to ensure that we are levelling up. That is something we are determined to do for the people of Northern Ireland, as we are for the rest of the United Kingdom.

On Monday, the Secretary of State told the House that he had ceased engaging on legacy issues at the request of victims groups, but he knows that the largest cross-community victims group in Northern Ireland, the WAVE Trauma Centre, has expressed serious concerns at his lack of engagement and, indeed, has described him as “dangerously deluded”. Can he confirm to the House exactly when he will meet those at the WAVE Trauma Centre and when he will present an update on legacy proposals to this House?

I am a little bit surprised by what the hon. Lady just outlined, as it was actually the WAVE group that, back in March, asked us to pause on engagement as it and its members were focused on covid, which I think was a reasonable position. I think it was right, as people were focused on covid. However, as I have said a few times to the hon. Lady and to this House, I think that action on legacy, which is such a sensitive and important issue, to make sure we can help Northern Ireland move forward and put the troubles in the past is an important thing to do. It is also important to get that information for the victims and the families of victims who have been looking for that information now for far too long. We are determined to do that by engaging with the people of Northern Ireland, as well as our partners in the Irish Government and the United States and the political parties in Northern Ireland, and when we have done that, I will come back to this House. However, this has to be something that is done with the support of and engagement with the people of Northern Ireland.