Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill Debate

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Department: Northern Ireland Office
Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP)
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My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Caine, to his ministerial office and wish him well. I have no doubt concerning his unionist credentials and know that he will treat everyone in this House with respect and integrity.

Having listened carefully to the debate thus far, I wish to make a short intervention. The legislation before us today is to deliver some aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal, which was agreed when the Executive was formed and the Assembly returned in January 2020. The New Decade, New Approach deal was to be a package of measures that were to be implemented simultaneously. However, it seems that the Government wish to cherry pick parts and cast aside others at their pleasure.

Devolution in Northern Ireland has been seriously undermined in recent months. Indeed, many view the devolution settlement as thrashed by actions in this House and the other place when very sensitive matters that were clearly devolved issues were legislated for, over the heads of the elected representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland. This was done on the first occasion under the disguise and pretence that the Northern Ireland Assembly was not functioning. Indeed, legislation was hastened through Westminster because the Assembly was about to be reconvened, and it was perceived that the legislation promised to appease Sinn Féin/IRA would not get through the Assembly’s democratic process.

However, this was not the only time the devolution settlement was violated. It happened at the whim of the Government, aided and abetted by the opposition parties in this House and the other Chamber, to appease the republican demands of Sinn Féin. So much so that many in Northern Ireland, including the original architects of the Belfast agreement, now believe that it has been seriously breached, most recently under the protocol deal with Europe, a protocol that grievously undermines Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said that the protocol is not consistent with the principle of consent enshrined in the Belfast agreement. Indeed, he said the Irish Sea border demolishes the key premise of the 1998 Belfast agreement and rips the heart out of it. This is in spite of the assurances from Europe, London, America and so on, and even in this House, that nothing will or can be done to undermine the Belfast agreement. What they really mean is that nothing must be done to upset Sinn Féin, as its demands are of paramount importance. They are about to add to this with a cultural deal made over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland, once again taking away from the authority of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is in spite of the Prime Minister’s promises that

“nothing will affect the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. We will make sure that we uphold that.”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/21; cols. 263-64.]

Time is running out for the Government to reverse the mistakes of the Northern Ireland protocol. The majority community within Northern Ireland are not willing to allow their constitutional rights to be scrapped to appease republican-leaning politicians in Europe. Under the Belfast agreement, the people of Northern Ireland were promised that they alone through the ballot box would have the final say concerning the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. In recent opinion polls, it is clearly evident that the vast majority right across the community cherish Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, desire to remain a full and vibrant part of the United Kingdom and reject the republican vision of a united Ireland.

Yet under the protocol, this position is fundamentally changed. It is clear that the protocol is dismantling the union and the unionist majority are not willing to sit on the sidelines and permit this to happen. No unionist worth the name supports the protocol. It is time to take a stand. This Government had better listen to the will and wish of the people of Northern Ireland and remove the protocol, for it must go.