HC Deb 03 December 2003 vol 415 cc494-5
5. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the prospects for reinstatement of devolved government in Northern Ireland following the elections to the Assembly. [141218]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy)

As the Assembly election showed, the main parties and the great majority of the people who voted for them want to see devolved government. The future of devolution now depends on engagement among the parties. We shall provide all the help we can to secure a basis on which the Assembly can be restored and a functioning Executive quickly established on a stable and inclusive basis.

Helen Jackson

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I congratulate all those who have been newly elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Can he assure me that, as he works with the parties and the Taoiseach in Dublin on how to restore the devolved institutions, he will draw into those negotiations and discussions all those who have been newly elected and are indeed drawing 70 per cent. of their salary, so that they have a job to do?

Mr. Murphy

I can give my hon. Friend precisely that assurance. She will know that the way in which the Good Friday agreement was created, and the reason for its success, was that everybody was involved in the discussions and negotiations. All parties in Northern Ireland will have that opportunity to discuss among themselves, with me and with the Irish Government how we restore devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I again appeal to the House: it is far too noisy, which is unfair to Northern Ireland Members and others who are present.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

As the restoration of devolved government is now less likely because of last week's elections, is it not clear that there is a need to draw lessons from those elections? Is not the most important lesson that a lot of decent, moderate people in Northern Ireland rightly voted for the agreement after receiving handwritten pledges from the Prime Minister, but those pledges have now been broken? Can we have an undertaking that the Prime Minister will not break further pledges and harm the peace process in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Murphy

I certainly do not think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is harming the peace process in Northern Ireland—far from it. I think that the commitment that he has made to peace in Northern Ireland is exceptional. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is, of course, more difficult and challenging to restore the institutions, but I also remind him that, compared with the problems, challenges and difficulties of the past, it is still a possibility.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)

Is it not the case that the Belfast agreement had the support of the majority of people in Ireland, both north and south, and represents an international treaty, which means that it cannot be renegotiated? Therefore, is it not the responsibility of every constitutional party, including the Democratic Unionist party, as the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, to now sit down and form a Government?

Mr. Murphy

My hon. Friend is right that the Good Friday agreement is based on an international treaty and, of course, on the results of referendums north and south. At the same time, he is also right that all the parties elected to the Assembly last week need to play their part in restoring devolution. He will know that I met the Democratic Unionist party this week, and I believe that further discussions will take place between us.