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Good Friday Agreement: Institutions

Volume 623: debated on Wednesday 15 March 2017

3. What discussions he has had with Ministers in the Republic of Ireland on the future of institutions established under the Good Friday agreement. (909173)

The Government stand firmly behind the institutions of the Belfast agreement and its successors. I have regular discussions with the Irish Government on a range of issues. Our immediate focus, consistent with the Belfast agreement, is working with the parties to resume the devolved Administration.

The Secretary of State will know that, at the time of the Good Friday agreement nearly 19 years ago, the European Union played a role alongside the Irish and British Governments. Does he envisage any role for international support to maintain the institutional frameworks, particularly the all-Ireland institutional co-operation that has been so important over recent years?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the strong relationship between the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of the Republic of Ireland. We stand four-square behind our commitments under the Belfast agreement and its successors, and at EU level I have picked up strong support for the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. We are determined to get the best possible deal for Northern Ireland, recognising our commitments and recognising the Belfast agreement.

15. On the Good Friday agreement, will the Secretary of State ensure that the disgraceful treatment of my constituent Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings and others will be addressed as part of any further discussions on legacy issues? (909185)

My hon. Friend has raised the issue of her constituent on a number of occasions, and I pay tribute to her for her work as a constituency MP. She will understand that I am unable to comment on individual cases, but I can say that the current system for dealing with a range of issues related to legacy is not working for anyone. It is not working for service personnel and it is not working for victims, which is why it is important that we move forward with the Stormont House bodies to create the balanced, proportionate and fair system that everyone recognises is needed.

Does the Secretary of State not understand that Brexit could have implications for the standing and currency of some of the implementation bodies that were created under strand 2 of the agreement? Also, does he appreciate that strand 2 offers an ambit of north-south co-operation and common implementation that could help to answer some of the problems that Brexit creates?

Before Christmas there was a good discussion at the North South Ministerial Council on the EU and other related issues. It is important to recognise the institutional framework that we have under the Belfast agreement. That is something we support, and I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the White Paper, which highlighted that support and our recognition of it.

The Secretary of State will have heard the belligerent utterance of the former Sinn Féin director of Unionist engagement, who said that the Prime Minister can stick a hard or soft border

“where the sun doesn’t shine”.

I invite the Secretary of State to remind Martina Anderson and all those in Sinn Féin that it is the Good Friday agreement that sets the terms for the future of Northern Ireland, that it is based on the majority will of the people and that it has not changed.

We stand behind the Belfast agreement and the principle of consent that is contained within it. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister said on that issue yesterday. Of course we recognise that there are significant issues, which is why we have said that we do not want to see a return to the borders of the past and that we recognise the desire for an expansive free trade agreement with the EU. It is important that we continue that dialogue and discourse and that we focus on these serious issues in that way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) is right to refer to the role of the Irish Government, and I praise the Secretary of State for the good working relationship he has established with Minister Flanagan. I thank him for the statements made by his Minister yesterday at yet another of the many St Patrick’s day celebrations, when he paid tribute not only to the role of our co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement, the Dublin Government, but to Ambassador Dan Mulhall, who will be leaving us in London for Washington. Does the Secretary of State agree that Ambassador Mulhall has been a perfect example of how we can work together in the interests of all?

I have very much enjoyed and appreciated working with Ambassador Mulhall, whom we wish well in his new and perhaps challenging and exciting role. It is important to underline the strong relationship we have with the Irish Government on a range of issues. We want to see that continuing into the future, and that engagement will be continued with that spirit in mind.