Oral statement to Parliament
Statement on the Northern Ireland political situation
Villiers outlines intensive cross party talks to address the current political situation in Northern Ireland
With permission I would like to make a statement on the political situation in Northern Ireland.
Over recent days I have been involved in a series of discussions with the Prime Minister, the five largest Northern Ireland parties, and the Irish Government.
And on Thursday we announced a fresh round of intensive cross party talks.
Those talks will begin at Stormont this evening.
They will be conducted in accordance with the established three stranded approach.
The Government’s objectives are clear.
We are committed to working with Northern Ireland’s political leaders to ensure that we have a fully functioning Assembly able to deliver for the whole community.
A Northern Ireland where a stronger economy brings greater prosperity for all.
And a Northern Ireland that is no longer defined by its divided past but by its shared future. But to achieve this we need urgently to tackle the two main sources of current political instability.
These are, firstly, the issues arising from continued paramilitary activity and, secondly, the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
Turning to the first of these.
On 12 August a prominent republican, Kevin McGuigan, was brutally murdered in the Short Strand area of East Belfast.
This followed the gunning down of another senior republican, Gerard Davison, in the Markets area of Belfast in May.
Whilst it is not yet possible to know with certainty who was responsible for these murders, on 22 August the Chief Constable set out the PSNI’s assessment of the McGuigan case.
This was the Chief Constable’s estimate at that date but we should recognise that we don’t yet know where the investigation will ultimately lead.
He confirmed that the police were following a line of enquiry that indicated that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the crime.
He said the PSNI did not at that stage have information to indicate that this involvement was sanctioned or directed at a senior or organisational level in the Provisional IRA.
On the status of the Provisional IRA, the Chief Constable’s assessment was that some PIRA organisational structures still exist but for a radically different purpose than before.
His view was that the organisation was committed to a political path and was no longer engaged in terrorism although some current and former PIRA members continued to engage in criminal activities for personal gain and for personal agendas.
I do not intend to comment further on what is a live police investigation.
The PSNI must be allowed to pursue their lines of inquiry wherever the evidence leads.
The police assessment I have outlined may change over time.
But I do want to make this clear.
There was never a justification for politically motivated violence in Northern Ireland from whichever side of the community it came.
During the Troubles, paramilitary organisations inflicted huge suffering on thousands of ordinary people.
These organisations should never have existed in the first place, they should not exist today and they should disband.
For our part the Government believes fundamentally in the rule of law.
We will not compromise it.
We stand fully behind the Mitchell Principles of democracy and non-violence.
Only parties committed to exclusively democratic and peaceful means can or should be eligible to participate in Northern Ireland’s political institutions.
I believe that all the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive are committed to those principles.
But I am fully aware that the fallout from the murder of Kevin McGuigan and continued existence of PIRA structures is a cause of grave concern as is the continued existence of other paramilitary groups.
So we have moved swiftly to convene talks to address these matters and to consider how best we can make progress towards the day when all paramilitary groupings are consigned to Northern Ireland’s history.
Stormont House Agreement
The second matter for consideration in the talks is the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
The Government believes that the Agreement is the best hope of building a brighter, more secure future for Northern Ireland.
But for that to happen it is essential that the Agreement is implemented in full by all those who participated in the negotiations last autumn.
We are delivering on our side of the deal.
In March we passed legislation to open the way for the devolution of corporation tax powers.
In line with the Queen’s speech, we are on course to introduce a Bill in October to set up new institutions to help deal with the legacy of the past.
And we are now releasing funding to enable the planned Voluntary Exit Scheme to proceed in order to take forward much needed public sector reform.
The manifesto on which we were elected commits us to working with each of the other participants to ensure that all aspects of the Agreement are implemented.
That has to include the financial provisions of the Agreement including welfare reform.
Without welfare reform and measures to deal with in-year pressures, that budget passed by the Executive in June simply does not add up.
This raises the real prospect that the Executive will start running out of money with resulting damage to frontline public services such as hospitals, schools and policing.
In those circumstances the Government cannot stand by and let this situation drag on indefinitely with Stormont less and less able to deliver key public services.
As a last resort, we would be prepared to legislate here at Westminster for welfare reform.
But I must emphasise that we would do so reluctantly and only after we had exhausted all the other realistic alternatives.
By far the better outcome would be for the Northern Ireland parties to reach agreement to resolve this blockage themselves without the need for Westminster intervention.
I still believe that is possible and that is why we will press ahead with the talks this evening, determined to see the implementation of all aspects of the Agreement.
Mr Speaker we are a One Nation Government and we want to build a Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows, and society is stronger and more united.
We strongly support the power-sharing devolved institutions established under the Belfast Agreement.
The future of these institutions is in jeopardy if the two very serious matters I have outlined today are not resolved.
I don’t underestimate the challenges we face.
But I believe that a way through can be found. And that is what we will be striving to achieve as we embark on this new talks process with urgency, focus and determination.
Northern Ireland political leaders have shown remarkable courage over the past twenty years and have achieved great things working together.
We need to show the same spirit over the next few short weeks.
And I commend this statement to the House.