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Statement by Peter Hain on the Restoration of Devolved Government, (9 May 2007)

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Text: Peter Hain... Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Statement by Peter Hain, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the restoration of devolved government, House of Commons, London, (9 May 2007)


"Mr Speaker I wish to make a statement on Northern Ireland.

I do not think it is possible to over-estimate the significance of yesterday’s events at Stormont.

In effect we witnessed the final resolution of what has been, for centuries, the most intractable source of political conflict in Europe.

And its significance is not confined to relations within these islands because what happened on the 8 May 2007 showed the world how a ‘Shared Future’ can emerge from even the most bitterly divided and blood stricken past.

And we must never forget how much misery and suffering that caused.

Mr Speaker, many people including members from all sides of the House have worked tirelessly to make yesterday possible.

The foundations were set by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, with the principle of consent and power-sharing at its core.

But, seeing the DUP and Sinn Fein going into Government together on a fair and equitable basis, makes ‘historic’ seem a cliché. That they have done it without the DUP ceasing to be the DUP and without Sinn Fein ceasing to be Sinn Fein is all the more remarkable.

When we all witnessed that now iconic picture of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams together for the first time on March 26th, we knew that Northern Ireland and the wider world would never be the same again.

Since then, the DUP and Sinn Fein, by working together, have shown that the greater good can be served without sacrificing either principle or integrity.

Indeed, I was delighted that the first joint letter signed by the FM and DFM was to ask me to leave my office in Stormont Castle to enable them to move in, in time for yesterday’s first meeting of the Assembly and the formation of the Executive.

Never has an ‘eviction’ notice been so eagerly anticipated or so warmly received.

Meeting the First and Deputy First Ministers together, I have been struck by their businesslike approach to preparing for government and, perhaps even more remarkably, their cordial and warm personal interaction.

Above all they have shown that age-old enmities can be overcome.

That is truly inspirational as we saw yesterday when they preached together at Stormont a common gospel of healing.

I am convinced that Devolution is here to stay. It would now be as unthinkable for Northern Ireland to ask for a return to Direct Rule in the future as it would be for Scotland or Wales. Indeed, who would have imagined that as of today, of all the devolved administrations, Northern Ireland has the only settled government in place.

Mr Speaker, the key to the future peace and prosperity for everyone in Northern Ireland lies in the Shared Future that the new Assembly and Executive epitomise.

And that shared future must go beyond the ‘Big politics’ of Parliament Buildings.

Because, astonishing as the political developments over the last two years have been, there is much more to be done:

We must find a way of dealing with the Past and addressing the needs of victims and survivors.

Although last summer’s marching season went off more peacefully and with greater consultation than ever before, a global solution to parading still needs to be negotiated. I hope that the Review Team headed by Lord ‘Paddy’ Ashdown will help to achieve this.

There are to many so called ‘Peace Walls’ still divide communities in Northern Ireland.

And some parts of Northern Ireland which have yet to fully share that optimism, which continue to feel isolated, marginalised, deprived and out of the mainstream.

Mr Speaker, I am thinking especially of loyalism and its place in a Shared Future.

We have always said that we will support and encourage those who wanted to work to a positive agenda, who wanted to bring about change and who had sustainable mechanisms for doing it.

People have a right to have their identity, their culture and their traditions respected.

But, if loyalism does not get into the mainstream and catch the tide that is taking Northern Ireland forward there is a real danger that despite the best intentions, they will be left behind and further isolated because no one will understand why there are groups within loyalism who still cling to an armed past.

Last weeks declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando will end paramilitary activity was welcome.

Guns, drugs and crime have no place within a community whose people want the best for their families, the best for their community and recognition of their core values.

I want loyalism to play a full part the new Northern Ireland, a full part in the Shared Future, as we should all want it to do – because loyalism anchored to peace, the rule of law and democracy as an honourable place in that future.

Mr Speaker Northern Ireland has changed immeasurably since Direct Rule was introduced in 1972, the year that, as a student I first visited.

Apart from anything else, Northern Ireland is fast becoming a multi-cultural, multi-faith and forward looking community, evidenced by the election of Anna Lo as the first person of Chinese origin in Europe to become a member of an legislative body.

For Northern Ireland a first, just like the first civil partnership anywhere in the UK.

This is all part of the Shared Future.

Mr Speaker the whole process demonstrates what relentless attention by governments and the persistent negotiations regardless of crises, collapses and depressing stalemates can achieve and this must give hope to those trying to resolve conflicts the world over.

For generations the politics of Northern Ireland has been a sometimes murderous zero sum game of winners and losers.

Yesterday saw an end to that and whatever the challenges that lie ahead they will be played out on the field of politics and democracy.

The MLAs who came together in Parliament Buildings yesterday, amidst a great joyous mood of reconciliation carry the hopes and aspirations of a people who have yearned for peace, stability and prosperity and have waited so long to see it.

And I know that the whole House will support all those who have the best interests of Northern Ireland at heart as we enter this new and exciting era."


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