On the 10th May I spoke in my role as Shadow Northern Ireland Minister to close a debate on the Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Bill.
You can read the transcript and watch my full contribution below.
I feel an enormous sense of déjà vu as I stand here once again to speak about Northern Ireland. As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), the shadow Secretary of State, we will not be opposing this Bill today. It is vital that, in the absence of an Executive, public services continue to function to support the people of Northern Ireland.
Like other Members across the House, I want to pay tribute to the civil servants who have spent more than a year working in these testing circumstances; it is not ideal, but it has been necessary. The removal of the six-month limit of this legislation will at least allow for continuity of governance as we hopefully move closer to the restoration of power sharing. The fact is, however, that these civil servants are confined to “business as usual” and are unable to take any new or bold decisions. Such decisions would be at the feet of Ministers and subject to scrutiny by politicians elected by the people of Northern Ireland to represent their interests. Without a functioning Executive, key levels of scrutiny from Committees are missing from those big decisions.
Public services in Northern Ireland are under severe pressure, with the impact of that felt throughout all of Northern Irish society. Just last week, for example, it was reported that since 2015 about 10,000 children have not been fully inoculated, with workforce shortages and delivery capacity in GP practices being given as the reasons for that. Deep-rooted issues such as that require proactive solutions, which should rightly be made by elected officials.
Furthermore, as was highlighted in Northern Ireland questions earlier today, the significant cuts included in the Northern Ireland budget are of great concern. I am grateful that the Secretary of State has included measures in this Bill that will allow for departmental accounts to be laid before Parliament for some scrutiny, but ultimately such scrutiny would be best applied by those on the ground in Stormont, who are answerable to the people of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2022 allowed the Secretary of State more time before calling an election in Northern Ireland. I would welcome hearing what steps he plans to take during this time to ensure that by the time of the next election, a functioning Executive will stay in place.
Despite the introduction of the Windsor framework, this deadlock has yet to shift and the people of Northern Ireland are suffering the most negative impacts of that. It is clear that there is a gap between the Government and the Unionists, which must be bridged in order for progress to be made. Dialogue between the Government, the European Union and the Unionist parties must continue. Of course, any way forward must take into account the nationalist communities, such is the nature of power sharing.
The recent celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement should highlight how important it is that we prioritise the restoration of power sharing and of a functioning Executive. I encourage the Secretary of State and the Minister to do all they can to try to push matters forward. I also ask that they work with the Prime Minister to ensure that he shows that he is fully committed to the restoration of power sharing. We cannot afford to spend another year debating issues that the devolved Administration would usually cover, while public services decline further and the cost of living crisis deepens. This Bill ensures that there is enough governance for now, but I sincerely hope it will not be needed for much longer.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.