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

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Department: Northern Ireland Office
Lord Rogan Portrait Lord Rogan (UUP)
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My Lords, I will be brief and make just some general points about the Bill this evening. I, too, warmly welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box and congratulate him on his well-deserved appointment. We from Northern Ireland are very aware of and appreciate his commitment to Northern Ireland over some 30-odd years. He is well acquainted with the hostelries in Hillsborough. I cannot think of any previous Minister, either here in your Lordships’ House or in another place, who has taken up post in the Northern Ireland Office with such a deep understanding of the brief and the Province of Northern Ireland. I wish him every success in his new role.

I support the Bill before us today which is, of course, a consequence of the New Decade, New Approach deal. However, I find it disheartening that, more than 23 years after the Belfast agreement was signed, most of the Bill’s provisions are necessary. I well remember leaving Castle Buildings on Good Friday 1998 with a real sense of hope that, at long last, normal politics would be coming to Northern Ireland. Yes, everyone, certainly at a political level, appreciated that there would be teething problems. More people tragically lost their lives at the hands of terrorists—29 people died and 220 were injured in Omagh—just over four months after the agreement. Devolution itself was also suspended on several occasions in those early years when my noble friend Lord Trimble held the position of First Minister. But it was still hoped that serious political upheaval in Northern Ireland would soon join the Troubles in being consigned to history. Instead, we saw Sinn Féin/IRA collapse the Assembly in January 2020, depriving local people of devolved government for three full calendar years. For most of 2021, we have witnessed a never-ending series of threats from the DUP to bring down the institutions as a means of distracting from the fact that the Prime Minister had betrayed them on Brexit, including by imposing a loathsome regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want good government and want the Assembly to work. They have had enough of public skirmishes between Executive Ministers and the impression that too many decisions are made for party-political reasons rather than for the public good. I share the fear expressed by some, including my own party leader, Doug Beattie, that, should the institutions be brought down again in the coming months, they will not be coming back any time soon.

With the Assembly elections a little over five months away and with uncertainty growing over what Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union may or may not do in relation to the protocol, we can be sure that more choppy waters lie ahead for Northern Ireland. However, should the institutions survive these challenges, and if a new Executive and Assembly can be established next year after those elections, I hope that MLAs and Ministers will choose to concentrate their energies on working together to deliver for all communities in Northern Ireland, with no more stunts, no more walkouts and no more need for legislation such as the Bill before us tonight.