Theresa Villiers – 2016 Speech on the Somme Centenary

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in Belfast on 29 June 2016.

I am very grateful to you for coming here this morning and for providing me with an opportunity to reflect on events of 100 years ago.

Before I do that, however, I thought it right to address the situation following the EU referendum.

The people of the United Kingdom gave their verdict last Thursday and voted to leave the European Union.

But I fully appreciate the need to bridge the divisions which emerged during the referendum in recognition of the many millions who voted remain, including a majority here in Northern Ireland.

So I want to give these re-assurances.

First, there will be a careful and detailed negotiation to determine how we implement the decision taken last Thursday.

I and the whole government are determined to get the best deal for all parts of our United Kingdom.

And I will do everything possible to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are protected.

In the negotiations to come, the Prime Minister has promised that we will involve the Northern Ireland Executive as well as the other devolved administrations.

We will also be engaging with the business and farming community in Northern Ireland on this important task on which we are embarking.

And we are already working with the Irish Government. We both want to keep the open border for people and business.

The UK has always been an open and outward looking country, a great global trading nation. And that is what we intend to remain.

So we are committed to securing a long-term economic relationship with the rest of Europe that provides for the best possible terms of trade in goods and services.

And we will look to put in place the strongest possible economic links with friends like the United States, and the Commonwealth, and other important partners like China.

Opening up important new potential opportunities for Northern Ireland.

There will inevitably be some adjustments and the Government is ready to take any appropriate action needed to deal with those.

But as the Chancellor made clear in his statement on Monday, thanks to the difficult decisions we have made, the UK economy is fundamentally strong.

We have robust growth, our deficit is down and employment is at record levels.

So we should take confidence from the fact that the UK is ready to deal with whatever the future holds from a position of strength.

Finally I would like to say this.

This Government remains fully committed to the Belfast Agreement and its successors and to the institutions they establish.

The Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council will all continue to reflect the unique political relationships throughout these islands.

In fact as a result of the result last week, more decisions than ever before that affect Northern Ireland will be taken in Northern Ireland with your devolved institutions one of the main recipients of the powers to be brought back from Brussels.

Following the result last week some have called for a border poll.

The Belfast Agreement is very clear on this.

I am obliged to call such a poll if at any point I believe there is a majority here for a united Ireland.

I do not believe that to be the case.

All tests of opinion point to continuing strong support for the current political settlement, including Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

So this Government will continue to provide stability and govern in the interests of the whole community.

We remain determined to do the best for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.

Although the referendum has dominated the news headlines since Thursday, this should not mean we overlook the importance of the centenary which takes place on Friday 1st July.

On that day I will have the privilege of joining the Prime Minister, members of the Royal family, political colleagues and thousands of members of the public at services in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

First of all, we will gather at Thiepval at the site of Lutyens’ magnificent Memorial to the Missing which bears the names of over 72,000 British and South African soldiers killed at the Somme but who have no marked grave.

Then along with many of Northern Ireland’s elected leaders I will go on to the Ulster Tower, near to the site of the Schwaben Redoubt which was the object of the Ulster Division’s assault on that fateful July morning one hundred years ago.

As many of you will know, the Ulster Tower is modelled on Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye where so many members of the 36th Ulster Division drilled before they set off for France.

This will be my third visit to the Somme as Secretary of State and these annual ceremonies are without doubt one of the most poignant and moving events that I attend as part of my official duties.

The Battle of the Somme began at 7.30am, on a sunny morning and was to last for 141 days.

It has left an indelible mark on our nation’s history.

It is deeply ingrained in the national consciousness of the whole United Kingdom, with barely a community, village, town or city untouched by the sheer horror what happened there.

In total the British Army sustained some 57,000 casualties on the first day.

Almost half the 120,000 men in the 143 battalions who went over the top were cut down by a lethal blizzard of machine gun, rifle and artillery.

It is widely viewed as the darkest day in British military history.

By the time the Battle ended on 18 November casualties had risen to 419,655 men.

And the furthest the British and French forces advanced during those four months was 8 miles along a 20 mile front.

No doubt the debate will continue to rage about the tactics that involved slaughter on an industrial scale, though as one distinguished historian put it recently:

“If there was a way of fighting the First World War that did not involve trying to smash frontally through formidable enemy defences, neither side discovered it”.

This centenary gives us a chance to reflect once again on whether anything was achieved. Though it can be argued that by relieving Verdun, the battle saved France from collapse, substantially weakened the German army, and prepared the way for the victory which occurred two years later.

But what is not in doubt is the shattering scale of the sacrifice that took place to achieve this, with so many first-hand accounts recounting the pain, the suffering and the horror.

So it is only right that this week we come together as a nation to remember those who fell.

And of course the centenary has particular resonance for many in Northern Ireland because the deeds of the 36th Ulster Division on the first day of the Somme have passed into legend.

After going over the top, the Ulster Division was one of the few that actually succeeded in meeting its objectives that day.

By a combination of astute tactics and speed, not matched on other parts of the battlefield, they had entered the Schwaben Reboubt by 8am and taken over 400 German prisoners.

But the inability of other Divisions to make similar advances left them cut off from reinforcements and massively exposed to a ferocious German counter-attack.

The more the Ulstermen advanced, the more cut off they became, until eventually they were forced to retreat and abandon their gains.

And their initial success came at a huge price, with the Division sustaining over 5,500 casualties.

The heroism they displayed was remarkable.

One war correspondent described their initial attack as:

“one of the finest displays of human courage in the world”.

While Captain Wilfred Spender of the Ulster Division’s HQ Staff famously said:

“I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st. July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world.

My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts that I witnessed”.

Of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded on the first day of the Somme, four went to Ulstermen.

Theirs were stories of truly astounding levels of courage.

And I was privileged to be present at Bushmills with Her Majesty the Queen yesterday when she unveiled a statue of one of them, Robert Quigg.

Yet the history of Ireland and the Great War is not just about the 36th Division.

We must also remember the incredible heroism of the 16th Irish Division.

Mainly nationalists drawn from the pre-war Irish Volunteers, they sustained an agonising 4,300 casualties in successfully capturing Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916.

Just as in Great Britain, so across the island of Ireland there was virtually no corner left unaffected by the Battle of the Somme.

In total it is estimated that well over 200,000 men from across the island served in the British Army during the course of the war.

And it is worth remembering that nearly three quarters of them were volunteers, with conscription never extending to Ireland.

Around 35,000 Irishmen, Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists were killed in World War One.

Their contribution and their sacrifice was immense and we should never forget it.

Yet in the decades following partition, the Irish contribution to the Somme and to the First World War more generally often seemed largely hidden.

And I believe that part of the reason for that lies in the consequences of another seminal event in Irish history that took place a matter of months before the Somme and which has also been extensively commemorated this year.

I refer of course to the Easter Rising that began at the GPO in Dublin on 24 April 1916 and which by the time the surrender occurred five days later had resulted in nearly 500 deaths and 2,600 injured.

While the Rising did not achieve its immediate objectives it is entirely understandable why so many see it today as leading directly to the birth of the Irish Free State and ultimately to the foundation of the Republic of Ireland.

In the post-independence era, two conflicting narratives of the year 1916 began to take shape.

For many unionists, the rising was an illegitimate insurrection by a small number of unrepresentative rebels, at a time when the war on the western front was going particularly badly.

This was in stark contrast to the supreme sacrifice that Ulstermen made at the Somme fighting for King and country.

In nationalist eyes the men and women of Easter 1916 gained a revered status, bordering on the mythological.

A citizens’ army fighting for Irish freedom against the might of the greatest Empire the world had ever seen.

And over time, those Irishmen who heeded the call by nationalist leader, John Redmond, to enlist in the British Army and who fought on the western front tended to be disregarded and overlooked.

If anything, in the period after the Second World War and during the long years of the Troubles, these attitudes hardened.

It is one of many examples of the power history has to sustain long held divisions and antagonisms on this island.

In recent years, however, against a backdrop of the significant political progress here in Northern Ireland and the greatly strengthened relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland a number of pre-conceptions and stereotypes have begun to break down.

There is now a much greater focus on the complexities of Irish history during the turbulent decade from 1912 to 1922.

So, for example, we learn of what motivated men like Emmet Dalton.

He was an Irish Volunteer who joined the British Army in 1915, fought with distinction with the 16th Irish at Ginchy during the Somme, reached the rank of Major, and was awarded the Military Cross.   On demobilisation in 1919, he joined the IRA and became one of Michael Collins’ closest associates.

Or there is Martin Doyle, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross in September 1918, joined the IRA in 1920, and later served with the pro-Treaty forces during the civil war.

The role of women has been more clearly acknowledged, not just those who took part in and supported the Easter Rising, but also the 234,046 women who signed the Declaration supporting the 1912 Ulster Covenant opposing Irish Home Rule.

And while it is the radicals who campaigned for votes for women who tend to be remembered today when we consider that decade of suffragette agitation. Perhaps those really responsible for the expansion of the franchise were the millions of women who took on roles and responsibilities on the home front in factories and farms and offices which had previously been the exclusive preserve of men.

Ireland’s role in the Great War has been rediscovered and at long last it has been fully recognised.

The changing view of our history was illustrated by a series of historic events in recent years.

These include the unveiling of the island of Ireland Peace Tower at Messines by Her Majesty the Queen and the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese on 11 November 1998.

The visit of the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to the Menin Gate and the Peace Park at Messines in 2013.

And the resumption of the laying of a wreath by the Irish Ambassador, Dan Mulhall, at the cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday.

In March 2014 along with Jimmy Deenihan, who was culture minister at the time, I helped lay the foundation stone for the Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. And I was honoured to be present when this monument was later dedicated to the thousands of Irishmen who gave their lives in the two world wars.

And in August 2014, the Irish President and Taoiseach and his ministers were right at the heart of commemorations to mark the outbreak of war.

I strongly welcome the fact that the Irish Government has organised its own programme of commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, including an event at the Irish National War Memorial at Islandbridge next month.

All of this is in tune with the approach with which the Irish Government marked the centenary of the Easter Rising earlier this year.

It is widely accepted that tensions around the 50th anniversary in 1966 raised tensions within Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and probably contributed to the outbreak of the Troubles shortly afterwards.

By contrast the Irish Government’s commemorations on Easter Sunday showed it is possible to mark events which are still sensitive and contested a hundred years after they took place in ways which are both dignified and inclusive.

I applaud them for that, and for events such as the service to remember those members of the British military who lost their lives during the rising.

The same inclusive approach was demonstrated at the Rising to Reconciliation event I attended in Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in April thanks to the kind invitation of Minister Charlie Flanagan and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

And at the Imagining Ireland concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall later the same month hosted by the Irish Embassy.

Much of the credit for this changed tone is, of course, down to professional historians, uncovering new facts and providing fresh interpretations of past events.

I’ve also been very impressed by the Creative Centenaries # Making History 1916 exhibition at the Ulster Museum and the Reflections on 1916 exhibition at Belfast City Hall.

And by the work of the Community Relations Council and Heritage Lottery Fund to develop and embed the set of important principles which underpins all of this work in Northern Ireland.

Talking to the people behind these initiatives, it is clear that every word has been scrutinised, every picture the subject of negotiation, every display carefully weighed up for accuracy.

All with a view to ensuring that everyone can feel comfortable visiting the exhibition, whatever their background.

Creative Centenaries, who I first met in April at the Nerve Centre in Londonderry, have also produced some excellent resources for schools.

But as well as the historians, I believe the politicians too have played a part in changing the way we look at the events of 100 years ago.

At the beginning of the so-called ‘decade of centenaries’ in 2012, the UK and Irish Governments both recognised the potential for sensitive events like the Ulster Covenant, the Easter Rising or the Somme to be hijacked by those seeking to use them to re-open old wounds and promote discord and division.

After all that has been achieved both here in Northern Ireland, and in UK-Irish relations, we therefore determined to work closely together in an effort to prevent this.

While it is never easy to view history with complete objectivity and impartiality, both administrations have been clear that we seek to put historical accuracy and mutual respect for different perspectives at the heart of our approach.

To promote education and greater shared understanding without asking everybody to agree or abandon strongly held positions.

And so far, while acknowledging that even more difficult anniversaries lie ahead, I think we have been successful.

It is an approach that we will continue to pursue as we look ahead to the centenaries of other seminal events, the ‘coupon’ election of 1918 and its aftermath, and of course the Treaty and partition in 1921 and 22.

We have seen all too well how history can divide.

Our ambitious goal throughout this decade is seek to use history to unite.

To build on the political progress that has been made here.

To strengthen further the strong bilateral relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and Ireland, a relationship that will endure long beyond the UK’s exit from the EU.

And to bolster the special ties that exist throughout these islands as we look forward to our next century of co-operation, partnership and friendship.

Theresa Villiers – 2016 Speech in Washington

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in Washington, United States on 16 March 2016.

It’s a great pleasure for me to be back here in Washington and to participate in my fourth St Patrick’s celebrations since becoming Secretary of State in 2012.

And on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government I’d like to wish you all a very happy St Patrick’s Day tomorrow.

I’m delighted to be addressing you in happier political circumstances for Northern Ireland than I was this time last year.

When I spoke here to this reception twelve months ago, the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement was stalling.

Matters deteriorated over the summer.

The impasse over the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget and welfare reform seemed intractable.

This was putting increasing pressure on funding for public services and was also preventing other aspects of the Stormont House Agreement from going ahead.

Political relationships within the Executive became increasingly strained and by early autumn the position looked perilous.

There was a real danger of ministerial resignations and early elections.

That could have led to the collapse of the devolved institutions and a return to direct rule from Westminster.

I need hardly point out that after everything that’s been achieved what a serious setback this would have been … and I was determined to do everything I could to avoid it.

Around the same time two murders in Belfast raised the spectre of continuing paramilitary activity and its malign influence on society.

Against this difficult backdrop we acted decisively.

First I made it clear that if the budget issues remained unresolved, Westminster would be left with no option but to legislate for welfare reform, even without Assembly consent.

We could not stand by indefinitely and see the finances of the Executive become increasing dysfunctional with the corresponding damage to public services and political relationships that would have involved.

Secondly, we called a fresh round of cross party talks with the five main Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government.

Two objectives were set; implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and dealing with continuing paramilitary activity.

Those talks lasted ten week, with hundreds of meetings, countless hours of negotiations, and some late nights.

Finally, on 17 November we were able to announce the Fresh Start – Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan.

And I’d like to thank all those who contributed to a successful outcome; including Senator Gary Hart and US Consul General in Belfast, Dan Lawton.

The Agreement makes real progress on both our two objectives, including taking the Northern Ireland political parties further before in their determination to see a complete end to paramilitary activity.

The Fresh Start Agreement was underpinned by up to half a billion pounds of extra spending power on top of the £2 billion in the Stormont House Agreement.

I’m happy to report that implementation is going well.

At the Executive’s request, primary legislation was passed at Westminster on welfare reform within 10 days of the Agreement being reached. And intensive work is underway on the package of secondary legislation needed to bring the changes into operation.

Last week, a further Bill went through the House of Commons on other key parts of the Agreement … including measures to tackle paramilitary activity.

The Executive is taking steps to cut the number of government departments and reduce the size of the Assembly.

The Commission on Flags and Identity is being established.

In December the UK and Irish Governments, along with the Executive, established a Joint Agency Task Force to tackle cross jurisdictional organised crime.

And of course the Agreement takes us a big step closer to the final stage of the devolution of corporation tax powers, with the Executive committed to a date and a rate of 12.5 per cent by 2018.

I’m delighted that it was the Conservatives who put this issue back on the agenda, convinced Whitehall that it was the right thing for Northern Ireland and legislated for it this time last year.

Northern Ireland is already a great place to invest and do business, as many US companies know to their advantage, but I believe that further reductions in corporation tax can provide a major boost to Northern Ireland economy.

And that in turn will help us tackle other long-term problems of economic and social disadvantage, underpinning our efforts to embed security and political stability through prosperity.

So the Fresh Start Agreement was a really positive step forward.

I’m very conscious, of course, that some important issues are not covered by the Agreement. In particular the new bodies designed to deal with the legacy of the past.

We came very close – the differences really were down to a few quite narrow areas – but in the end there just wasn’t quite enough consensus to bring forward the legislation.

But the UK Government remains determined to resolve the outstanding differences. Not least because we believe these new institutions would deliver better outcomes for victims and survivors of the Troubles than existing mechanisms.

So working with Northern Ireland’s leaders and with victims groups that is what we’ll continue striving to achieve.

Amongst the other challenges we face in the weeks and months to come are further commemorations in this decade of centenaries now well underway

Events such as the Somme and the Easter Rising will always have contrasting meaning and significance for different people, shaped in many cases by their community background.

But I believe that handled with good sense and mutual respect, these centenaries can be marked in a way which promotes greater shared understanding and reconciliation, rather than division.

I know that’s what the Irish Government are seeking to do as we get closer to the centenary of the Easter Rising next week, and I also welcome that same constructive approach from groups organising events north of the border as well.

We also know there’s more to do to build a genuinely shared society and I look forward to working with the Executive to deliver our respective commitments towards achieving that goal.

And we never forget the continuing lethal threat from terrorism, an illustration of which took place just days ago with the attack on prison officer Adrian Ismay.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my sympathy and condolences to the family of Mr Ismay.

He had a long and distinguished record of public service in a role which is crucial to protecting the whole community.

His loss is a tragedy and I know that the attack will only strengthen the resolve of the people of Northern Ireland to ensure their future is only ever determined by peaceful and democratic means, and never by violence.

I pay tribute to the Chief Constable, George Hamilton, and the brave men and women of the PSNI.

Working with partners like An Garda Siochana – they do an incredible job in keeping people safe.

As they set out last week, they foil plots to murder by Dissident Republicans on a regular basis.

But despite this, I believe that the outlook for Northern Ireland looks bright.

As a result of the Fresh Start and Stormont House Agreements politics in Northern Ireland is now on a more stable footing than since before the flag protests of just over three years ago.

And the working relationship between the new First Minister, Arlene Foster and the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has begun very positively.

In May Northern Ireland will go to the polls giving us a third Assembly term since devolution was restored in 2007 … and the longest period of continuous devolved government since the 60s.

In this political climate, there is a real chance for the new Executive to make significant progress on their priority issues such as health and schools and the economy, without being held back by disputes over identity, culture and the past.

On the economy too things are looking up – with 51,000 more people in work than in 2010 and the unemployment register down by over 40 per cent since its peak.

And Northern Ireland will continue to benefit from the UK Government’s long term economic plan which in 2015 helped make the UK along with the United States, one of the two fastest growing major advanced economies.

At the end of the Fresh Start talks I reflected with my team that we’d spent five of the previous twelve months in political negotiations.

It certainly wasn’t an easy process, but I believe that collectively with the parties and the Irish Government we have managed to move things on, avoiding possible collapse of devolution and helping to make the institutions stronger and more stable.

I welcome your continuing support for our efforts and for your determination to see the political process in Northern Ireland work for the benefit of the whole community.

And for our part be assured that as a One Nation Government we will continue to play our full role in delivering our manifesto commitments to build a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Thank you.

Theresa Villiers – 2014 Statement on the Hallett Report

Below is the text of the statement made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in the House of Commons on 9 September 2014.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on follow up to the Hallett report into the on-the-runs administrative scheme which was laid before this House on 17 July.

In response to the recommendations in the report and on the basis of all the advice I have received, I have decided that the statement I make today is the fairest, promptest and most effective way to reduce the risk to future prosecutions, and to provide the clarity called for by the Hallett report.

I make this statement on behalf of the Government, having consulted with the independent police and prosecuting authorities who have seen this statement and agree that it represents the best way forward.

Lady Justice Hallett emphasised on a number of occasions in her report that the letters, however phrased, were not an amnesty.

They were not a commitment by the state that individuals would not be prosecuted, whatever the strength of the case against them.

They were only ever at statements of the facts, as they were believed to be at the time, as to whether an individual was wanted for questioning by the police or not.

They were not intended to preclude investigation or prosecution on the basis of new evidence emerging after they were sent or on the basis of fresh assessment of the existing evidence.

But in the light of her report, and in the light of the Downey case, it is clear to me that urgent clarification is needed as to what, if any, comfort can be derived from those letters now.

There are 2 key points which it is important that all concerned should be clear about:

First, the letters described by the Hallett report, issued in whatever form (and any similar or equivalent statements not made in letters) do not represent any commitment that the recipient will not be investigated or prosecuted, if that is considered appropriate on the basis of the evidence available now.

Those who received individual or composite letters (or any other form of indication) stating that they were ‘not wanted’ and who derived comfort from that, should cease to derive any such comfort.

In short, the letter recipients should cease to place any reliance on those letters.

Secondly, decisions about investigation and prosecution will be taken simply on the basis of the intelligence and/or evidence relating to whether or not the person concerned committed offences.

That means that in any of their cases (and whatever was said in the letters sent to them or statements made in the past) decisions today and in the future will be taken on the basis of the views that are formed about investigation and prosecution by those who now have responsibility for those matters.

Their views may be the same as the views that led to the letters being sent in the past, or they may be different.

It is the views of those who are taking the decisions now (or in the future) that matter.

All the evidence will be taken into account, regardless of whether it was available before the letters were sent or whether it has emerged subsequently.

This does not mean that all those who received ‘not wanted’ statements in the past are now considered ‘wanted’.

It simply means that they are in the same position as any other member of the public.

If there is considered to be evidence or intelligence of their involvement in crime, they will be investigated by the police and if the evidence is sufficient to warrant prosecution, they will be prosecuted.

This was always the intended status of the scheme but the issues raised by the Downey case and highlighted in the Hallett Report have made today’s clarification necessary.

I regard this as being the appropriate position to take, and not an unfair one, for the following general reasons.

The implementation of the scheme was highly unsatisfactory and suffered from a series of systemic failings, as set out in the Hallett Report.

It was developed piecemeal and without appropriate direction.

There were various different forms of letters and the content of a number of those was unsatisfactory.

We know that errors of fact were made and it may well be that errors of judgment were also made when cases were considered under the scheme.

It is now clear that at least some of the letters were issued on an unreliable basis.

The defects in the scheme identified by the Hallett Report mean that there is a serious risk that this will turn out to be the case in relation to other letters as well.

The public interest in investigating and prosecuting serious crime is too important for there to be a risk of it being undermined by a scheme which, it is now clear, suffered from such significant flaws in its implementation.

There is a particularly strong public interest in decisions about investigation and prosecution being taken on the basis of the current views, based on assessment now of all the evidence, of those responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious crime.

The letters have generated a serious degree of confusion as to precisely what their legal effects might be, whether alone, or when set alongside other facts (as in the John Downey case).

It is very important, particularly in the context of serious crime, for there to be clarity.

It is to be recognised that, correctly or not, some of the recipients will have derived some comfort from a ‘not wanted’ letter.

It may be that some ‘not wanted’ letters were issued in error or were based on flawed judgements at the time and that recipients of such letters were given a degree of comfort that was in fact unwarranted even on the basis of the information at the time.

That is greatly to be regretted.

Such errors should never have occurred.

But two points are to be noted in any such cases (in addition to the more general points I have just made):

First, the public interest in mounting an investigation or prosecution, if the evidence warrants it, would remain very powerful.

It should be a rare case indeed in which such an error should prevent such a prosecution, all the more so if the crime in question is a very serious one.

And second, those who have received such statements now know in clear terms what position the Government takes.

They now have fair and clear warning that such comfort as they may have derived from the statements can no longer be taken.

There is no continuing basis for any reliance on the past statements.

This scheme is at an end.

All those who sought or received statements through the administrative scheme should take note of this statement today.

I have deliberately made it in the public setting of Parliament, recognising and intending that it should be widely publicised as a result.

I will take further steps to disseminate it.

I will be drawing it to the attention of each of those who made requests on behalf of named individuals, reflecting the channels through which the communication of the original letters was made.

In these ways, I can be confident that fair and proper notice will have been given to those affected by this statement, including those to whom letters were sent under the scheme.

I commend this statement to the House.

Theresa Villiers – 2015 Statement on Northern Ireland

Below is the text of the statement made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons on 19 November 2015.

With permission I would like to make a statement on the agreement reached this week in the cross party talks at Stormont.

But first I would like to pay tribute to Peter Robinson who announced this morning that he will very soon be standing down as First Minister and leader of the DUP.

Peter has been a central figure in Northern Ireland politics for over four decades. In his long and distinguished record of public service both in this House and the Assembly, he has championed the interests of Northern Ireland with unparalleled effectiveness, determination and dedication.

Peter was key to the Agreement reached this week and he can be rightly proud of his contribution. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement. Mr Speaker, last December, the Stormont House Agreement was reached after 11 weeks of negotiations between the five largest Northern Ireland parties and the UK and Irish Governments.

That Agreement addressed some of the most difficult challenges facing Northern Ireland including the finances of the devolved Executive, welfare reform, flags and parades, the legacy of the past, and reform of the Assembly to make devolution work better.

All of this was underpinned by a financial package from the UK Government that would give the Executive £2 billion in extra spending power. In the Government’s view the Stormont House Agreement was, and remains, a good deal for Northern Ireland.

By the summer, however, it was clear that implementation had stalled.

There were very strong differences of opinion within the Executive over the budget and the implementation of the welfare aspects of the Agreement, and these were preventing other elements of the Agreement from going ahead.

We were facing a deadlock which, left unresolved, would have made early Assembly elections more and more likely, with an ever increasing risk that collapse of devolution would follow.

After all that has been achieved in Northern Ireland over recent years, a return to direct rule from Westminster would have been a severe setback, and it is an outcome which I have been striving to avoid. In August, a second issue arose to threaten the stability and survival of devolution.

The suspected involvement of members of the Provisional IRA in a murder in Belfast raised once again the spectre of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and its malign and totally unacceptable impact on society.

Faced with these circumstances, we concluded it was necessary to convene a fresh round of cross party talks with the five main Northern Ireland parties, and the Irish Government on matters for which they have responsibility, observing the well established three strand approach.

The talks began on 8 September and ran for ten weeks.

The objectives we set were twofold:

– firstly to secure the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement;

– secondly to deal with continued paramilitary activity.
I believe that the document published on Tuesday entitle ‘A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan’ makes real progress towards fulfilling both of these objectives.

Crucially it tackles the two issues that have posed the greatest threat to the stability and survival of devolution in Northern Ireland.

First, on the Stormont House Agreement. The new agreement will help give the Executive a stable and sustainable budget, assisted by further financial support of around £500 million from the UK Government. These funds are to help the Executive tackle issues unique to Northern Ireland.

They include support for their programme of removing so-called ‘peace walls’ and an additional £160 million to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland in their crucial work to combat the threat from dissident republican terrorists.

And the package also paves the way for completion of the devolution of corporation tax powers to the Northern Ireland Executive, something which could have a genuinely transformative effect on the Northern Ireland economy.

The measures in the Stormont House Agreement designed to address issues around flags and parades will now go ahead.

And there’s agreement on reforms to the Executive and Assembly to make devolution work better, including on the size of the Assembly, the number of government departments, use of the petition of concern, and provision for an official opposition.

Secondly, on paramilitary activity. The agreement takes Northern Ireland’s leaders further than ever before on this issue.

It strongly reaffirms the commitment to upholding the rule of law and makes it absolutely clear that in no circumstances will paramilitary activity ever be tolerated.

The Agreement places new shared obligations on Executive Ministers to work together towards ridding society of all paramilitary groups and actively challenging paramilitary activity in all its forms.

And it commits all participants to a concerted and enhanced effort to combat organised and cross border crime, which the UK Government will help to fund.

A key element of the Stormont House Agreement on which we were unable to agree a way forward was the establishment of new bodies to deal with the legacy of the past.

We did establish common ground between the parties on a range of significant questions on how to establish those important new structures, but sadly not enough to enable legislation to go forward as yet.

The Government continues to support these provisions because of the pressing need to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors, the people who we must never forget have suffered more than anyone else as a result of the Troubles.

So it is crucial that we all now reflect on what needs to be done to achieve the wider consensus needed to get the new legacy bodies set up. I want to emphasise that in very large part, the Agreement takes on board a wide range of points made by all five Northern Ireland parties during the 10 weeks of talks just concluded.

As the overwhelming majority of issues were in devolved area, this agreement has rightly been driven by Northern Ireland’s elected leaders in particular the First and deputy First Ministers. And I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks to them and to all the five Northern Ireland parties who worked with determination and commitment in the talks.

Thanks too to my Hon Friend the Northern Ireland Minister, and to Ministers Charlie Flanagan and Sean Sherlock from the Irish Government, all of whom devoted many long hours to this process and who made an invaluable contribution to its successful outcome.

Mr Speaker, implementation of this week’s Agreement is already underway.

On Tuesday, the Executive voted to support it. Yesterday the Assembly passed an LCM on welfare legislation at Westminster and the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill will be introduced to Parliament later today. I believe this package as a whole gives us the opportunity for a fresh start for devolution.

It’s a further stage in delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to implement the Stormont House Agreement, and it’s another step forward towards a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

And I commend this statement to the House.

Theresa Villiers – 2016 Speech on Northern Ireland

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, at Ulster University in Belfast on 11 February 2016.

This morning I want to talk about this Government’s approach to the past, and set out our proposed way forward on delivering the legacy bodies in the Stormont House Agreement.

It is evident that for many people in today’s Northern Ireland, the legacy of the past continues to cast a very dark shadow over the present.

And it’s not hard to see why.

Over the period of the so-called Troubles, broadly speaking from 1968 to 1998, over 3,500 people were killed, mostly, though not all, here in Northern Ireland.

Thousands more were maimed or injured.

Businesses and livelihoods were destroyed, pre-existing sectarian divisions were deepened and entrenched.

Widespread disruption, either as a result of terrorist activity or the security presence needed to counter it, was a daily fact of life.

And of course of those who might not have suffered physically, many still carry the mental scars of what happened.

Bearing in mind that for much of this period the population of Northern Ireland was around 1.5 million, it follows that a large proportion of those living here were directly touched by the Troubles.

And even those not directly affected themselves will invariably know someone who was.

So I never underestimate the continuing impact of the Troubles today, not just on individuals, but also on society more widely.

For all that’s been achieved in moving Northern Ireland forward, public housing and education is still very segregated, interface barriers loom over many streets, and disputes over flags and parades retain the capacity to spill over into serious public disorder.

Moreover the costs of division are an additional financial burden on an already stretched public purse.

So as the representative of the sovereign Government here I am acutely aware that we have a responsibility to do all that we can to tackle the legacy of the past in this part of the United Kingdom.

The Government fully recognises that it will be much more difficult to achieve our objective of building a genuinely shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland unless and until we can find some way of coming to terms with a divided past.

Of course people’s opinions on the past will always differ sharply, shaped by their own background and experiences.

It is not an area where we can ever achieve a consensus view on what happened, though we might at least be able to come to some common understanding of key facts through initiatives like the historical timeline project envisaged in the Stormont House Agreement.

For the record I want to set out the position of this UK Government.

The first and most fundamental point is this.

In our view terrorism was wholly wrong.

It was never and could never be justified,from whichever side it came, republican or loyalist.

No injustice, perceived or otherwise, warranted the violent actions of the paramilitary groups.

The terrorist campaigns caused untold misery and suffering.

And we will never agree with a version of history that seeks to legitimise them.

We wholly reject any suggestion of equivalence between the security forces and those who carried out acts of terrorism.

And I believe that there is a real risk that those who seek to justify the terrorist violence of the past risk giving a spurious legitimacy to the terrorist violence of the present.

Ultimately, of course, terrorism did not succeed here.

And I believe there were three main reasons for that.

First, there was the sheer resilience of the people of Northern Ireland, supported by the overwhelming majority of citizens throughout these islands.

In this I include those involved in politics, business, and wider society who even in the darkest days, and often at great personal risk, helped to hold this place together.

Second, there was the insistence of successive UK Governments that the future of Northern Ireland would only ever be determined by democracy, and never by violence.

The consent principle enshrined in the 1993 Downing Street Declaration which went on to form such a key part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

And third, there was the remarkable dedication, professionalism and courage of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Armed Forces.

Over 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives over the period of Operation Banner – the longest continuous military deployment in our country’s history.

Around 7000 awards for bravery were made and, quite simply without the dedication of the security forces to keeping people here safe, the circumstances that enabled the peace process to take root would never have happened.

Yet today we face a pernicious counter narrative.

It is a version of the Troubles that seeks to displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism and place the State at the heart of nearly every atrocity and murder that took place – be it through allegations of collusion,misuse of agents and informers or other forms of unlawful activity.

For some, every allegation of wrongdoing by the State – or those working for it – is treated as fact,however unsubstantiated or whatever the source, and whatever the consequential distress to victims.

Let me be clear.

I am not going to say that over a period of thirty years there were no instances where members of the police and armed services fell below the high standards we expect of them.

Sadly we know that there are some truly shocking instances where they fell drastically short of those standards.

That includes the appalling murder of Patrick Finucane, the anniversary of whose death takes place tomorrow.

And like the Prime Minister I will never seek to defend the security forces by defending the indefensible.

Where there is evidence of wrongdoing it will be pursued. Everyone is subject to the rule of law.

Yet we need to be mindful of the context in which the security forces were operating.

While we will always judge our security forces against the highest standards of integrity and professionalism, both then and now, we do need to recognise that policing practice and methodology has changed radically over the intervening years, right across the UK.

We should therefore be wary of expecting modern investigatory practices to have been applied in past decades, lest we become guilty of historical anachronism.

We should also be conscious that gathering and assessing intelligence is not, and never will be, an exact science.

It varies greatly in quality, clarity and reliability.

Assessing its credibility can frequently involve finely balanced judgements.

What might seem to have a certain meaning with hindsight, at the time could well have been just one of a long list of conflicting and vague reports all pointing in different directions.

As a government, we have been more forthcoming than any of our predecessors in accepting where the State has failed to live to the highest standards, and in apologising where that is the right thing to do.

The Prime Minister’s ground-breaking statement on Bloody Sunday is the most obvious example of that, but it’s not the only case.

We also issued full and clear apologies in the Patrick Finucane and Claudy cases.

And where it is warranted we will continue to do this.

But to suggest that misconduct by the police and our Armed Forces was somehow rife or endemic is, in the view of this Government, a deliberate distortion and a narrative of the Troubles that is not justified by the facts.

Of all the deaths that occurred during the Troubles, 60 per cent were caused by republican groupings, 30 per cent by loyalists, and 10 per cent by the State.

I don’t for one moment dismiss the scale of the tragedy which that 10 per cent involves.

It includes many terrible losses for which families still grieve to this day.

But over 250,000 men and women served in the RUC and the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

I am convinced that in the vast, vast majority of cases they carried out their duties with exemplary professionalism, fully within the law.

Remember this.

It wasn’t the RUC or the Army who planted the bombs at La Mon, Enniskillen, or the Shankill, or pulled the triggers at Loughinisland or Greysteel.

But it was the RUC and the Army who, often at great personal danger , foiled countless terrorist plots and attacks and in doing so saved hundreds of lives.

So as we said in our manifesto we will always salute the RUC and our Armed Forces for the role they played and the sacrifice they made.

We will never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe them.

Today of course Northern Ireland is a very different place.

While we continue to face a severe and lethal threat from dissident groupings, the overall security situation has been transformed.

We have inclusive, power sharing devolved government, with parties taking their place in the executive as of right and according to their mandate.

Because of the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements I believe devolution is now on a more secure and stable footing than for some time.

Thanks to the UK Government’s long term economic plan, and to the hard work of the people of Northern Ireland and the Executive they elect, the economy is growing and unemployment is falling.

But as I said at the outset of my speech, legacy issues have a continuing capacity to disrupt that hard won political progress.

There is a pressing need to make progress because it is clear that the current structures for dealing with legacy cases are not working as they should.

They are not working for victims and survivors – as I know at first hand from my many meetings with their representatives.

They currently focus disproportionately on cases where the State was involved or alleged to be involved, leaving families in other cases feeling overlooked and disregarded.

And the legal aid bill continues to grow, diverting resources which could be used for policing the present rather than the past.

I fully understand the concern felt about delays in the inquest system and would emphasise that the UK government and its agencies and the PSNI are working hard to fulfil the disclosure requirements placed on us.

I do not accept the argument that the problems with inquests stem from lack of commitment on the part of the Government or the police.

The PSNI holds over 9 million documents relating to the Troubles and they and the MoD have between them disclosed thousands of documents through inquests and other legal processes.

Rather, it’s a simple fact that the current system was never designed to cope with a large number of highly complex and sometimes linked cases involving very sensitive information.

So we will continue to seek a workable reform of the system of legacy inquests.

I understand the concern felt about resources and if reforms go forward, of course the UK Government would look very seriously at whether some of the Stormont House legacy funding could be released early to support inquests.

But even the problems with inquests are tackled, it is clear that additional mechanisms are needed.

So we are committed to establishing the legacy bodies set out in the Stormont House Agreement – the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group, along with the Oral History Archive and the Historical Timeline project.

We have an express manifesto commitment to deliver them.

And in our view, they offer the best way forward if we are to achieve better outcomes for victims and survivors, the people who suffered more than anyone else as a result of the Troubles.

They also come with an additional £150 million of funding from the UK Government – just one part of the financial packages supporting the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements which give the Executive around £2.5 billion in extra spending power to reflect the unique circumstances faced by Northern Ireland.

So the Government shares the widespread disappointment felt that the Fresh Start talks last year were unable to deliver the new structures set out in the Stormont House Agreement.

And today I re-affirm the Government’s determination to do all that we can to remedy that -working with victims’ groups,with the Northern Ireland parties and with the Irish Government on seeking a way forward.

In fact this Government has taken this issue further forward than any of our predecessors.

Very significant progress was made in both sets of cross party talks thanks to the hard work of the participants, including dedicated input from Charlie Flanagan and the Irish Government.

I believe we are closer than ever before to finding a way forward.

We have listened very carefully to those who fear that any new bodies will have a disproportionate focus on the State and the security forces, and others who fear they might not be independent enough.

So we would write into legislation in the clearest terms the requirement that these bodies are under an obligation to carry out their functions in ways that are fair, equitable, balanced, proportionate and transparent.

We have sought to remove the politics from sensitive appointments – for example the director of the Historical Investigations Unit.

And, crucially, any legislation we bring forward will make absolutely clear that there will be no amnesties or immunity from prosecution.

This Government believes in the rule of law – and we will not countenance amnesties.

And although the cross party talks did not result in sufficient consensus to enable legislation to be introduced, we did establish common ground between the participants on a significant number of important questions.

The most difficult outstanding issue relates to how the Government fulfils its duty to protect national security.

I accept that for some this is a loaded term.

But what it means in practice is the Government’s duty to protect its citizens from harm.

As the text of Stormont House Agreement recognises, it is the Government’s duty to keep people safe and secure, and to ensure no individuals are put at risk.

All the participants accept that this vital responsibility must be upheld.

The remaining issue is how best to do so, and how any necessary decisions can be reviewed and appealed.

National security is not an open-ended concept which can be used to suppress information about whatever actions the State does not want to see the light of day.

In fact, as I have said, over recent years the State and its security forces have already disclosed several thousand of documents on Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

During the talks, I listened carefully to those who were worried that the UK government might misuse its powers relating to national security.

And we agreed that the Government and its agencies would give full disclosure of all relevant documents to the HIU without any redactions – that is everything – all we have which relates to the cases HIU will investigate.

The dispute is not about whether the HIU will have access to all the information it needs, It will.

The dispute is about onward disclosure from the HIU.

And it is an inescapable fact that there is information which would put lives at risk if it were put into the public domain.

There are notorious examples of where people accused of being informants have been hunted down and murdered.

I do not want to be explaining to inquests in years to come why I failed to protect the information which led to more such tragedies in the future.

And there are techniques and capabilities available to our security services that if known would be of value to terrorists.

That’s not just violent dissidents in Northern Ireland, but also Islamist terrorists who want to attack our whole way of life.

No responsible government could allow this to happen, and we must retain the power to prevent it.

This has led some to assume that the Government will be constantly seeking to block the onward disclosure by the HIU of information to victims’ families and the public.

This is simply not the case.

The fact that disclosure of information may be embarrassing or difficult is not a justification to withholding it and no one is suggesting that it should be.

In order to offer re-assurance we stretched ourselves during the talks and offered a significant compromise.

I was able to agree with Government colleagues that where material or information is withheld on national security grounds, families would be told this.

And then they or the HIU director would be given an automatic right to challenge it in the High Court.

We believe this to be both fair and reasonable.

Anyone who doubts the independence of the High Court should consider the regularity with which it rules against the UK government.

So I would like to conclude my speech on a note of optimism.

I do not believe that the remaining differences which exist in relation to establishing the new legacy bodies are insurmountable.

That is why I am determined to do all I can to resolve them as soon as possible.

We owe victims and survivors nothing less.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that the new structures will be perfect, or that they will provide all of the answers to all of the questions posed by victims and survivors.

Unfortunately there is no set of proposals which could ever deliver that or make up for even a fraction of the pain and loss suffered over the thirty years of the Troubles.

But I am confident that they will be a significant improvement on what we have now.

For that reason I believe that they are worth pursuing – as part of our commitment to do more for victims and survivors, and as part of our broader commitment . As a One Nation government dedicated to bringing our country together, to build a more stable, peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland and create a brighter, more secure future for everyone who lives here.

Theresa Villiers – 2016 Speech on the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on 21 January 2016.

The cross-party talks that ran from 8 September to 17 November last year, which culminated in the Fresh Start agreement, brought us closer than ever before to consensus on the best way to deal with Northern Ireland’s past. While we established much common ground, it was not possible to reach agreement on all issues. I am committed to working with the Northern Ireland parties, with the Irish Government as appropriate, and with representatives of victims and survivors, to build on the progress made during the talks. The UK Government is determined to resolve the outstanding issues that are preventing the establishment of the legacy institutions set out in the Stormont House Agreement.

One of these institutions is the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR). This will be an independent body designed to enable victims and survivors privately to receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their next of kin. As set out in the Stormont House Agreement, and building on the precedent of the Independent Commission on the Location of Victims’ Remains, the ICIR will be an international body. To that end, the UK and Irish Governments have signed an international agreement to enable the establishment of the ICIR and to set out its functions. Today I have placed a copy of this treaty in the libraries of both Houses.

The ICIR will be an important institution which will help victims and survivors to seek information which it has not been possible to obtain by other means. Engagement by families with the ICIR will be entirely voluntary. Information provided to the ICIR about deaths within its remit will not be admissible in court, something which families will always be told in advance. The ICIR will not, however, provide any form of amnesty or immunity from prosecution.

This Government believes in the rule of law and would not countenance such a step. As the Stormont House Agreement set out, information provided to the ICIR will be protected but no individual will be protected from prosecution if evidence is obtained by other means. It is the Government’s intention that the legislation needed to implement the ICIR will contain provisions clearly setting this out.

It had been our aim to lay the treaty before Parliament at the same time as introducing the legislation required to establish the legacy bodies. However, as agreement has not yet been reached on this legislation, this is not possible. Once any treaty is formally laid, Parliament has a period of 21 sitting days, in which it can resolve that the treaty should not be ratified, in accordance with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I believe that it would be best if this consideration took place alongside the legislation, which will contain more detail about how the ICIR will function. I propose therefore formally to lay the treaty once we are able also to introduce legislation. These particular circumstances mean that placing a copy of the treaty in the libraries of both Houses is an appropriate way to ensure that Parliament is aware of the text of the treaty, without instigating the formal process of consideration.

In addition to the ICIR, the Stormont House Agreement envisaged the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit, the Oral History Archive and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group. Together, this set of institutions provides the best opportunity to help Northern Ireland deal with its past and provide better outcomes for victims and survivors, the people who we must never forget suffered more than anyone else as a result of the Troubles. The Government is committed to implementing the Stormont House Agreement and to establishing the legacy bodies it contains. I will continue to meet victims’ representatives and others over the coming days and weeks to discuss these matters and to build support for the new institutions.

 

Theresa Villiers – 2013 Speech on Keeping Northern Ireland on a Steady Footing

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Saint Catherine’s College Cambridge on 6 September 2013.

I am delighted to be able to attend my first British-Irish Association Conference. Ever since its formation in 1972 the BIA has played a valuable role in bringing together key politicians, academics, journalists and others to debate relationships across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

You have made a significant contribution to the progress made in Northern Ireland over the past two decades. And today you continue to set the agenda on how we can build on those achievements and move Northern Ireland forward. So I would like to warmly congratulate your outgoing chairman, Paul Bew on his outstanding work and wish his successor, Hugh MacNeill well in his new role.

It is also great that Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore will be attending the conference. The UK Government very much values the excellent working relationship between London and Dublin and the Tánaiste has played a key role in delivering that.

The Agreements

One of the key themes of your conference this weekend is how, 15 years on from the Belfast Agreement, Northern Ireland can keep a steady footing. And it’s on that issue that I’d like to reflect in my comments this evening.

I was born around the same time as the so-called ‘troubles’ erupted in the late 60s. So for the first 30 or so years of my life, like most people I mainly associated Northern Ireland with instability, sectarian strife and terrorist bombs.

The issues of identity and belonging that gave rise to those troubles seemed completely intractable. So I pay tribute to all those here who played a part in delivering the settlement agreed on Good Friday 1998.

Along with its successors at St Andrews in 2006 and Hillsborough in 2010, the Belfast Agreement has helped to bring about a degree of peace and political stability not seen for nearly half a century.

Of course the Agreements are not perfect. They contained elements that many people found difficult to swallow. But there can be no doubt that they have changed life in Northern Ireland for the better in a fundamental way. 15 years on, that is something we should neither undervalue nor take for granted.

For our part, the coalition government at Westminster will continue to stand faithfully by the agreements and the institutions they have established. We believe that this is a settlement that must work and deliver across the whole community.

Public disorder

Yet for all the hard-won stability, there is no doubt that there are key issues that are far from settled in Northern Ireland.

The controversy over flying the union flag and around parades demonstrates the deep divisions which remain in some parts of society. That said, nothing can excuse lawless behaviour of the kind we saw on the streets of Belfast in July. Rioting is not a recreational activity; it’s a serious crime that can lead to substantial prison sentences.

Street violence is not a cost free option. It damages Northern Ireland as we seek to compete in the global race for investment and jobs. It places an intolerable burden on the police who demonstrate incredible bravery in upholding the rule of law. And it ruins the life prospects of those who engage in it by landing them with a criminal record.

And of course rioting is completely counter-productive to any cause that its participants claim to espouse. We stand four-square for the rule of law, whether it is under attack from so-called loyalists or dissident republicans. So I pay tribute once again to the work of the PSNI and An Garda Síochána whose unprecedented level of co-operation is saving lives in Northern Ireland.

Yet at the same time it is right that both the government and the Executive seek to address the issues that can feed this kind of disorder. That’s why both administrations are determined to make progress on tackling the causes of sectarian division and building a stronger economy. Both are vitally important if we are to keep Northern Ireland on a steady footing.

Economic recovery

Taking the economy first, in recent weeks there have been some tentative signs that the Northern Ireland economy is beginning to mend. Unemployment has fallen for 6 months in a row and is now back below the UK average.

Data published last month by Ulster Bank showed business activity returning to growth for the first time since the financial crash of 2007. There are also indications that the housing market is beginning to stabilise.

The Government recognises that things are still very tough, and there is a long way to go before we fix the broken economy.

The economy is still far too dependent on public spending. The property crash has left many businesses with a heavy burden of debt. And the recovery is still slower in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK.

So in June, the Prime Minister and I, along with the First and deputy First Minister launched a substantial package aimed at boosting the private sector and rebalancing the economy.

The truth is we don’t have as many resources as might have been available in times past, but we rifled through every locker in Whitehall to see what more could be done to help Northern Ireland grow its private sector.

So we’ve secured an additional £42 million in UK funding for the PEACE IV and a £154 million top-up for EU structural funds.

The package also includes £100m in additional borrowing powers for the Executive and measures to boost lending to businesses.

The government’s highly successful start-up loans scheme is now open for business in Northern Ireland as one of the first elements of the economic package to get off the ground.

A joint £20 million investment plan for research and development projects in Northern Ireland is proposed, with a particular focus on aerospace.

We’re working on a visa waiver pilot to encourage visitors to the Republic of Ireland to visit Northern Ireland.

And an agreement has been reached on a mechanism for taking forward the devolution of corporation tax before the 2015 general election, if the government decides to devolve these powers.

Crucially we have also managed to retain Northern Ireland’s assisted areas status coverage that’s helped the Executive to create over 3,000 jobs in NI in recent months.

All of this represents a substantial body of work and it will see the Executive and the government cooperating more closely together than ever before on our shared goal of equipping Northern Ireland to compete successfully in the global race for investment and jobs.

Shared Future

Moving on to the second means of moving Northern Ireland forward, building a more cohesive society, virtually all the relevant policy responsibilities fall within the remit of the Northern Ireland Executive

But making progress on this is still a key priority for the government which is why it’s featured in nearly every conversation I’ve had with the First and deputy First Ministers since taking office.

The publication the Executive’s document Together: Building a United Community met a mixed reaction. Certainly, the real test will come with efforts to see its proposals actually delivered. But the publication of an ambitious programme to tackle division and build a stronger society in itself represents a genuine and welcome step after long months of deadlock, and I congratulate the First and deputy First Minister for finding a way to move things forward.

I have also warmly welcomed the establishment of the cross party working group on parading, flags and the past that will begin its work later this month under the chairmanship of Richard Haass. While the government is not directly represented on this group we are very supportive of it and are keen to engage constructively with its work. For a number of reasons, we have a direct interest in the outcome of this process.

The most obvious reason is that we want these talks to be successful because that would improve life for people in Northern Ireland, strengthen the economy and make it easier to combat the threat from dissident republicans. But it’s also worth remembering that parading and some elements of the rules on flags are currently matters for Westminster. So if changes are proposed by the Haass group, they would need the support of the government if they are to be implemented.

Likewise, while not necessarily requiring legislation, it is likely that any proposals to deal with the past would, at least in part, fall to the government for implementation.

So it’s the subject of the past that I would like to spend the remainder of my speech this evening.

The Past

I am sure that no one here would doubt that the legacy of the troubles has a continuing impact in modern Northern Ireland. I see that when I meet victims of terrorism or those who believe that the security forces operated outside the law. It’s impossible not to be moved by harrowing stories from families who lost loved ones, often in the most brutal of circumstances.

A range of initiatives are underway regarding the past, a number of which I have had the honour to visit. In addition to a host of local and oral history projects across Northern Ireland, there are outstanding initiatives like the CAIN archive at the University of Ulster, the renowned collection at the Linen Hall Library and the wealth of historical material held by the BBC and UTV. Other projects such as the Warrington Peace Centre and the Wave Trauma Centre also do invaluable work. As a consequence, Northern Ireland’s troubles are one of the most comprehensively recorded and documented periods in history.

For its part the government is moving from the 30 year rule to a 20 year rule for the release of state papers, though the release of any information into the public domain will always have to be done in a way that is sensitive to the Article 2 rights of all parties.

We’re also working with the Irish government on the decade of centenaries beginning last year with the Ulster Covenant and continuing next August with the outbreak of the Great War. We believe that these centenaries can provide an opportunity to reflect on events in our shared history which have profoundly different meaning for those from different traditions.

We also continue to support the valuable work being done in the devolved sphere, for example by the Police Ombudsman, the Historical Enquiries Team and the Victims’ Commissioner.

And of course the government has been fully prepared to apologise where the state has failed to uphold the highest standards of conduct, as we did in the cases of Bloody Sunday, Claudy and the murder of Patrick Finucane.

So the allegation that “nothing’s happening on the past” isn’t true. But of course there is no so-called over-arching ‘process’ on the past and little consensus on what that should be. I’ve found that in the range of discussions I’ve had on this subject, as did my predecessor Owen Paterson, as did the last government in the 12 year period during which they grappled with this issue.

So we should all welcome the opportunity for the Haass working group to bring a fresh perspective. I’ve no intention of pre-empting the Group’s discussions, but I’m mindful of the following. Any mechanisms for dealing with the past needs to be fully consistent with maintaining the integrity of the rule of law. They must have regard to the fiscal position in which the UK government finds itself as a result of the deficit. And as our manifesto set out and the Prime Minister re-iterated in his statement on Bloody Sunday, we will never put those who uphold the law on the same footing as those who seek to destroy it. For us, politically motivated violence from whatever side was never justified and we will not be party to attempts to re-write history by legitimising terrorism.

I’d also like to mention public inquiries.

Any request to establish a new inquiry has to be carefully considered on its own merits. But this government has always been very clear on its reservations about the use of public inquiries to deal with the past. It isn’t just about the length and cost of inquiries, though the final sums can be quite staggering. Public inquiries are by no means a guaranteed route in all cases to establishing the truth.

For example, the Billy Wright Inquiry was unable to establish how the weapons that killed him entered Europe’s most high security prison, the question right at the heart of what the inquiry was all about.

And of course it would be impossible for every victim of the troubles that claimed over 3,500 lives to have a public inquiry. So they are by their nature selective, and can provoke very divided views in Northern Ireland.

Conclusion

But in conclusion, whatever the outcome of the Haass process I hope there will be a thread running through all work on the past which ensures that its underlying purpose is always to play a constructive part in wider efforts to heal social division, build mutual respect and understanding and move Northern Ireland forward towards a better future.

And it is vital that the Haass work takes place alongside real progress on other crucial issues on reconciliation and social cohesion and on the economy. Richard Haass and his group have an immensely difficult task ahead of them. Whether they will succeed is something we can’t yet know for certain.

So over the coming weeks and months it is critical that we see progress both on the economic package and the shared society proposals from the First and deputy First Minister. There is much that we can work on even while issues like the past and parading remain to be resolved.

As ever, the ability of the political leadership of Northern Ireland to work together collaboratively across political boundaries will play a key part in determining whether the changes needed to rebalance the economy and heal social divisions are delivered.

This summer we have seen some depressing scenes in Northern Ireland. And the government takes them very seriously, as do our partners in the Republic of Ireland and the United States.

But this summer has also witnessed the best of Northern Ireland. That was evident when the Prime Minister brought the G8 Summit to Lough Erne. Sunny Fermanagh played host to the most peaceful G8 ever and even the protesters commented on the warmth of the welcome they received.

In addition, Derry-Londonderry’s UK City of Culture programme has been an outstanding success with the all-Ireland Fleadh the biggest event yet.

And the World Police and Fire Games saw spectators from all community backgrounds cheering on PSNI teams with enthusiasm. Given the history of policing in Northern Ireland, that support is something that would have been very hard to imagine only a few years ago.

All of these represent the new Northern Ireland – one that’s confident, forward looking, that’s a great place to live, work, visit and do business. That’s the kind of Northern Ireland we’re determined to build. And that’s what will keep Northern Ireland on the right footing.

Theresa Villiers – 2013 Speech on Peace and Prosperity in Northern Ireland

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in the Senate Chamber in Stormont, Northern Ireland on 9 September 2013.

Mr Chairman, it’s a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to move the motion before the Grand Committee.

I am delighted that the Committee is meeting in this historic Senate Chamber in Parliament Buildings.

The Grand Committee is an important forum for MPs from across the House to discuss Northern Ireland affairs and specific reference is made to its scrutiny role in the Belfast Agreement. It serves as a reminder that while many matters are now rightly devolved to the Assembly, Parliament continues to take very seriously its responsibilities for Northern Ireland.

One of the criticisms levelled at successive governments during the years of the old Stormont Parliament was that they turned their backs on Northern Ireland. That is not a precedent that should ever be followed and the meeting of the Grand Committee here today (9 September) provides an opportunity to reaffirm the importance the House of Commons places on Northern Ireland matters.

The motion before the Committee deals with peace and progress in Northern Ireland and the next steps in building a prosperous and united community. It is right that we reflect on the progress that’s been made under successive governments since the early 1990s.

As a result of the political settlement, Northern Ireland has levels of peace and stability not seen here for nearly half a century. For the overwhelming majority of people, life has changed for the better. The ending of the main paramilitary campaigns mean that we no longer live in the daily shadow of terrorism and the large scale security apparatus that was necessary to counter it.

The Assembly itself is now approaching in the middle of its second term since devolution was restored in 2007, something that hasn’t happened with devolved institutions since the 1960s. Decisions over all the key public services are now taken by locally elected and accountable politicians rather than direct rule ministers. And for most people in Northern Ireland the debate has now moved on, away from how we deliver devolution to how devolution itself delivers on the issues that really matter to them.

For our part, the government remains firmly committed to supporting the political settlement and the institutions that have been established under it. And we’re determined to work with the Northern Ireland Executive in order to build on the foundations provided by relative peace and stability, to achieve a more prosperous and united community.

In doing this we need to make substantial progress in two key areas – the economy and creating a more cohesive, shared society – and I shall take each of these in turn.

Economy

The government inherited the worst deficit in the United Kingdom’s peacetime history and the largest of any country in the G20. There was no alternative to the course the government set out in 2010 and as a result of the difficult decisions we have taken, the economy is now beginning to mend. The deficit is now down by a third. The UK economy is growing. And we have more people in work than ever before.

Here in Northern Ireland there are at last some tentative signs that the economy is recovering. Unemployment is falling and is now back below the UK average. Across a number of sectors, business activity has returned to growth for the first time since 2007. And house prices are up, with an increase in property sales of 10% over the year.

But I’m the first to acknowledge that there’s a long way to go.Times are still very tough for many families. That’s why the government has delivered a £700 tax cut for over 615,000 people in Northern Ireland, taken 30,000 of the lowest paid out of tax altogether and halved the income tax bills of those on the minimum wage

It’s why we’re determined to create the conditions that will enable businesses to grow, by:

– cutting corporation tax to 20p by the end of this Parliament

– taking £2,000 off the employer national insurance bill of every company and charity in the country

– tackling the deficit to keep interest rates at record lows.

At the same time we recognise Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances and are continuing to provide high levels of financial support to the Executive by:

– delivering an additional £900 million since the 2010 spending review

– keeping on track with the commitment to deliver £18billion for capital investment in the period up to 2017

– maintaining public spending in Northern Ireland at 20 per cent per head higher than the UK average.

Northern Ireland has some truly world class businesses. It’s a great place to do business. And the Executive does excellent work to encourage inward investment. Yet the fact remains that the recovery is still slower in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK. The property crash has left businesses with a heavy burden of debt. And the economy remains far too dependent on public spending.

So the government has been working with the Executive to look at additional ways to boost the private sector and rebalance the economy. And in June the Prime Minister and I, along with the First and deputy First Ministers, launched our economic package.

We don’t have as many resources at our disposal as might have been available in the past, so we’ve had to look at more imaginative ways of helping other than just spending ever more public money. But despite the budgetary constraints we are under, we’ve managed to secure an additional £42 million in UK funding for PEACE IV and a £154 million top-up for EU structural funds. We’ve also managed to retain Northern Ireland’s assisted area status, which is such an important weapon in the Executive’s armoury for attracting jobs.

There’s £100 million in additional borrowing powers for the Executive, and measures to boost lending to business.

There’s new work on enterprise zones and as well as a joint £20 million investment plan for R&D projects, with a particular focus on aerospace.

Our highly successful start-up loans scheme is now open for business in Northern Ireland – one of the first elements of the package to be up and running.

We are working on a visa waiver pilot to encourage visitors to the Republic of Ireland to extend their holidays and come north of the border.

And we have an agreement on a mechanism to take forward the devolution of corporation tax before the next election, if the government decides to devolve these powers.

As acknowledged in the Assembly, this represents a substantial package and it has been widely welcomed across the political spectrum and by the main business organisations. It will see the government and the Executive working more closely than ever before on our shared goal of equipping Northern Ireland to compete in the global race for investment and jobs.

And we hope to be in a position to make further announcements shortly on the G8 themed investment conference in October, which the Prime Minister is attending.

Shared Future

The other area where we need to make substantial progress is in building a more united community. Regrettably, this year we have seen clear evidence of the deep divisions that remain in some parts of society.

Let me be clear, there can be no justification for the violence we saw during the flag protests and on the streets of Belfast in July. Rioting and attacking the police is serious criminal behaviour. So we give our full support to the PSNI in their efforts to bring the perpetrators before the courts. And where people are convicted they can expect to serve time behind bars.

We also deplore attempts to commemorate and legitimise acts of terrorism. Everyone in Northern Ireland has a clear responsibility to examine the impact their actions could have on all parts of the community. At the same time it is right that the government and the Executive seek to address the issues that help to feed and sustain divisions in society.

While most of the relevant policy responsibilities fall to the Executive, the need to make progress has been a consistent theme of the Prime Minister, my predecessor and me since this government took office.

Put simply, unless these divisions are addressed, Northern Ireland is never going to reach its full economic potential. So in May, the Executive published its strategy, ‘Together: Building a United Community’. It contains some ambitious goals and the real test will come with efforts to see its proposals actually delivered.

But publication in itself represents progress and I welcome the efforts of the First and deputy First Minister to bring it about. The government will continue to support them in taking the difficult decisions which may be needed to move things forward.

We very much welcome the establishment of the All-Party Working Group under the chairmanship of Richard Haass to look at flags, emblems, parading and elements of the past. The government isn’t formally part of the Haass process but we are fully engaged with it and support its important work. And we do have a clear and direct interest in the outcome.

The most obvious reason for our close interest in the outcome of the Haass work is because a successful resolution of these contentious matters would improve life for people across Northern Ireland, assist our efforts to strengthen the economy and reduce the tensions that can help feed support for terrorism.

But it’s also the case that parading and elements of the rules on flags are currently matters for which Westminster has responsibility. So any changes proposed by the Haass group would need the support of Parliament if they are to be implemented. Nobody should underestimate how difficult the task is that Dr Haass and the All-Party Group have ahead of them.

The ability of the Northern Ireland’s political leaders to work together across political boundaries will be crucial here, as it has been in delivering the major break-throughs in the past. I very much hope we’ll see the same determination and willingness to compromise that delivered the series of historic agreements that have done so much to change life in Northern Ireland for the better over the past two decades.

But important as the Haass process undoubtedly is there is a range of other important work that needs to be done to ensure Northern Ireland continues to make progress. This must not be put on hold awaiting the outcome of the Haass Group’s deliberations. In particular, there should be no let up on delivering the proposals in the economic package and shared future programme published by the First and deputy First Minister.

Security

Before concluding I would like to say a few words about security. As we all know, despite the very great progress that’s been made in Northern Ireland there remains a small number of people who still seek to pursue their ambitions by violence.

So far this year there have been 12 national security attacks by so-called dissident republicans and the overall threat level remains Severe. These terrorist groups continue to carry out attack planning and targeting and they have lethal intent. Many of devices they deploy are relatively crude and simplistic but even a simple pipe bomb can have horrific and fatal consequences. I also condemn the shocking threats to catholic primary schools in north Belfast.

Once again I pay the highest tribute to the men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Security Service who do so much to protect the whole community from these terrorists.

And I would also like to put on record my sincere thanks to An Garda Síochána for the vital role that they play in combating the dissidents. Relations between the British and Irish Governments have probably never been better. The same can be said of the relationship between the PSNI, the Garda and the Department of Justice.

Cross border police co-operation has undoubtedly saved lives. In recognition of the severity of the continuing threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland, the June spending round confirmed £31 million of funding to help tackle the ongoing terrorist threat. This money is in addition to the PSNI’s core funding provided by the Executive.

It extends the £200 million of support that we provided in 2011.

We will consider carefully the assessment recently carried out by the PSNI on resilience and I am happy to cooperate with the Department of Justice, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Policing Board on how we respond to the issues raised.

Conclusion

Mr Chairman, this debate takes place against the backdrop of some difficult weeks, when Northern Ireland was back in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Yet this year has also seen an outstandingly successful G8 Summit in Co Fermanagh, something that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

The World Police and Fire Games enabled competitors and spectators from all over the world to enjoy Northern Ireland’s legendary hospitality. And we’ve seen some dazzling events in Derry-Londonderry as the first ever UK City of Culture. All of these have shown the best of Northern Ireland.

Great progress has been made, yet we acknowledge that there is still much to do if we are to build on the peace and stability and achieve a more prosperous and united community. That is why the Government has rolled up its sleeves to to get on with the job and I commend the motion to the Committee.

Theresa Villiers – 2014 Speech to Police Federation Northern Ireland

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to the Police Federation in Northern Ireland on 28th May 2014.

It’s a great honour for me to be addressing the Police Federation of Northern Ireland’s annual conference this afternoon. I’m very grateful to your Chairman, Terry Spence, and his officer team for providing me with the opportunity to do so. And I realise that I have a tough act to follow.

When a Secretary of State called Theresa addresses a Police Federation conference, there is certainly scope for controversy! However, thankfully the different circumstances prevailing here in Northern Ireland mean the messages I have for you today don’t have to be quite as tough as those which the other Theresa delivered to your counterparts in England and Wales.

Today I’ll cover matters relating to the national security situation and this government’s determination to ensure that terrorism will never succeed. Secondly I’ll look at concerns about criminality linked to loyalist communities and lastly I’ll highlight the need for an agreed way forward on dealing with the past.

Debt of gratitude

Before that, though, I want to say a few words about the nature of policing in Northern Ireland. My starting point is to express my huge admiration for the courage, skill and professionalism displayed day in day out by members of the PSNI. Your devotion to duty and service to the community is outstanding and you should be proud of the job that you do.

Being a police officer in Northern Ireland involves dealing with sensitivities, dangers and public order situations that are almost unique in the UK, with the ever present terrorist threat making these demanding duties even more difficult. And you do that at a time of unprecedented pressure on the public finances – a situation, and I have to be candid with you, that will have to continue for some years to come as we strive to get the deficit down.

So on behalf of the UK government let me reiterate the huge debt of gratitude we owe you. Thank you for all that you do to keep the community safe from harm.

I also wish to acknowledge the service and sacrifice made by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and their families. There are some who overlook or deny the contribution the RUC made to securing the relative peace and stability we have today. Well I can tell you that that is not a position that I or this government will ever take – we will remember them.

A police service for the community

Today, we have a police service that’s more representative of the community than at any time in the history of Northern Ireland. It is subject to rigorous accountability and oversight structures to ensure it upholds the very highest standards. Its respect for human rights is second to none, as is its commitment to community policing. And it is entirely independent of political control or direction.

Crime is falling and the most recent Northern Ireland crime survey puts confidence in local policing at its highest ever levels with that confidence spread evenly among different parts of society. So I have no doubt that the PSNI is a service for the whole community that’s delivering for the whole community.

Security situation

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the first ceasefires and there can be no doubt that the security situation here has been transformed over these last two decades. As well as their tragic toll in lives lost and families bereaved, the long years of the troubles also meant that widespread property damage and almost constant public disruption were a daily fact of life here. And of course large parts of Northern Ireland could only be policed with the support of the Army.

Thankfully, we can be increasingly confident that those bad days are behind us and a great many people can take credit for that, on all sides. But for all that’s been achieved, we all here know that Northern Ireland continues to face a severe terrorist threat from so-called dissident republicans. These groupings hold democracy in contempt, defying the will of people throughout this island who in 1998 overwhelmingly voted that the future of Northern Ireland should be determined only by democracy and consent.

But while those intent on terrorism might be small in number, and have almost no popular support, they retain both lethal intent and capability. And police officers and members of the prison service remain their principal targets. Tragically, this was confirmed once again by the brutal murders of Police Constable Ronan Kerr in 2011 and Prison Officer David Black in 2012. And I’d like to take this opportunity to express my condolence and sympathy to the families of these brave men and to all victims of terrorism.

The Government’s response

This government came to power against a backdrop of a deteriorating security situation in Northern Ireland. A spike upwards in terrorism had begun in 2008, including the murders of Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey, and then Constable Steven Carroll in 2009.

One of the Prime Minister’s first acts in office was to establish a National Security Council. The aim was to ensure that all threats to our security are considered in the round and in a strategic way under the Prime Minister’s chairmanship. The National Security Strategy published in October 2010 made tackling Northern Ireland Related Terrorism a tier one, that is the highest priority for the government.

As Secretary of State I provide regular updates to the Prime Minister and colleagues on the progress we’re making in dealing with the terrorist threat here.

In addition, we’ve provided the Chief Constable with an additional £200 million over the four year Spending Review period, with a further £31 million for 2015/16. This is significant extra funding at a time of falling budgets elsewhere and when we also face a very significant threat from international terrorism, not least because of the effects of the conflict in Syria.

I should add that the government is also legislating to increase the maximum sentences available in England and Wales for a range of terrorist related offences. Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister has indicated that he considers it important to ensure consistency of available sentences across the United Kingdom – and I agree with him.

I also believe that he and I need to reflect carefully on the concerns expressed that decisions on sentencing in Northern Ireland can sometimes look far more lenient for terrorist offences than those taken in the courts elsewhere in the UK.

There have been some significant successes in disrupting the terrorist groups over recent months and the PSNI can be rightly proud of the role they have played in that. And I would also like to acknowledge the work of the intelligence services in providing invaluable support to the PSNI in their efforts to prevent the persistent planning and targeting by DR groupings from delivering the deadly outcomes which these terrorists seek to achieve.

By its very nature, the people involved in the intelligence services do not receive public acknowledgement but they play a significant part in broader efforts to keep people in Northern Ireland safe from harm. I would also emphasise the rigorous approach they take to complying with the legal rules which govern their activity.

The UK has one of the strongest systems anywhere in the world for oversight of the intelligence services. A legally binding set of rules is provided by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and other legislation. Independent Commissioners have complete and unfettered access to scrutinise all documents and areas of activity to ensure rigorous adherence to these rules.

Members of the public can seek redress through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. And parliamentary accountability is provided by the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee which had its powers, remit and resources strengthened by this Government in the Justice and Security Act of 2013.

But there is another security partner which is playing a crucial role in addressing the threats faced in Northern Ireland from terrorism and serious crime. That of course is An Garda Siochana. The close working relationship between police services on either side of the border is crucial. It has never been stronger than it is today and it is undoubtedly saving lives.

Not only is it pivotal in addressing national security concerns, it is also essential in combating cross-border criminality such a fuel laundering. And it has helped us deliver successful major international events such as the G8 in County Fermanagh and the hugely successful Giro d’Italia. So I thank the Garda for the work that they do and welcome the efforts being made at all levels to increase this cooperation yet further.

So, in summary, after concerted effort by the Government, the PSNI and their security partners, we have successfully stemmed the increase in terrorist activity which emerged in 2008.

But make no mistake, we must remain absolutely vigilant – there can be no let up in our efforts and we are totally committed to supporting the vital work that continues on a daily basis to combat terrorism. And on that you have complete commitment from the Prime Minister, from me and from the whole government.

Loyalist-related crime

The second issue I want to address today is one that I know is of great concern to the Federation, as it is to the government, and that is loyalist related violence and crime including brutal punishment attacks. I understand the anger felt by people about this – violence and intimidation from whatever quarter should not be tolerated. And I can assure you that this government will never tolerate it.

We fully back the action being taken by the Chief Constable to investigate criminality and illegal activity and tackle it with the full rigour of the law. I know that the Justice Minister is equally supportive. And in recent months there have been significant arrests and convictions.

So my message to these criminal thugs who prey on the communities in which they live is simple – break the law and expect to be investigated, charged and prosecuted, and if you’re convicted, expect go to prison where you belong.

Racist hate crime

And that’s also a message that should go out loud and clear to whoever is responsible for the racist attacks which have taken place over recent months. Such hate crimes have no place in a civilised society.

Northern Ireland rightly prides itself on the warmth of the welcome it offers. It is shameful that so many members of minority communities have been subjected to violence and intimidation.

These attacks are an ugly disfigurement on our society in Northern Ireland. I condemn them absolutely and I would like to convey my sympathy to all the victims and anyone else who has suffered at the hands of criminals.

National Crime Agency

And I would like to take this opportunity to make a simple point to all those who don’t yet feel able to support assembly legislation on the National Crime Agency. They are making life easier for the very organised crime gangs whose activities they condemn so strongly.

The NCA’s inability to operate to the full extent in Northern Ireland means that there will be criminal assets which do not get seized and wrongdoers who do not get investigated. The choice on whether to allow the NCA to operate in relation to devolved matters rightly rests with the Executive. But that choice has consequences.

So I say again – all possible effort has been made to ensure that arrangements for the operation of the NCA are fully consistent with the devolution settlement and it is now time to let people in Northern Ireland enjoy the same protection from serious and organised crime that everyone else in the UK now has.

Dealing with the past

Turning to my last subject, I believe that the recent controversy over OTRs has reinforced the need to find an agreed way forward on dealing with the past. We need a mechanism that is balanced, transparent and accountable. One that puts the needs of victims first and enables us to put the era of side deals behind us once and for all.

One of the reasons why a fresh approach is becoming ever more vital because of the increasing pressure that legacy issues are placing on the policing and justice system – with a recent CJI report estimating that the Northern Ireland Executive now spends over £30 million a year on legacy issues.

And a significant burden falls on the PSNI who are having to trawl through hundreds of thousands of documents to decide what can be disclosed publicly and what must be kept secret to protect national security and individuals’ lives.

For those who fear that a new process on the past would only generate yet another means to try to re-write the history of the Troubles, I say that a fresh approach doesn’t have to be like that. It should be possible to provide for structured oversight by bodies representing different points of view to keep any new process fair, objective and historically accurate and prevent it being hijacked by any one group or viewpoint. That is something which the Haass-O’Sullivan draft documents were striving to achieve.

I have made clear that the UK government is prepared to be part of a compromise and to play our part in working with new institutions that might be agreed along the lines set out in the Haass 7 draft. But today I want to go further than that.

The UK government believes there is now a pressing need to reach an agreement on the past, parading and flags. All these three issues have the capacity to poison the political atmosphere and make progress on other key issues for Northern Ireland far harder to deliver. They can also be the pretext for disgraceful acts of public disorder which leave police officers injured and communities devastated.

An agreement on flags, parading and the past – even in outline – would send a powerful global message about the ability of Northern Ireland’s politicians to find solutions to the most divisive of issues. It would free up politicians to focus on other matters crucial to our future – such as rebalancing the economy, reforming the public sector and building a shared future.

And it could ease the intolerable burden that is placed on the PSNI who year after year have to deal with the disgraceful public order consequences which so often arise from disputes over flags and parades.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, with the elections over, we now have a little over six weeks until the 12th of July. It is essential that every possible effort is made to use this crucial period to reach an agreed way forward before the height of the parading season is upon us once again.

The party leaders’ meetings need to resume as soon as possible, with an intensive and structured process to deliver an agreement. The First and deputy First Minister initiated the Haass discussions last year, and both have stated in the strongest terms their determination to see it through. That is what they and the other party leaders now need to do.

I continue to believe that trying to impose a solution from outside won’t work. The best way forward is an accommodation agreed locally by Northern Ireland’s political leadership. But the UK government will continue to be fully engaged in supporting and encouraging the efforts of the local parties to find a way forward.

Be in no doubt – we want this agreement delivered. That sentiment is strongly shared by the Irish and US Governments both of whom continue to provide active and enthusiastic support to efforts to find a way forward.

As the Prime Minister wrote in his article yesterday, now is the time to finish the job.

Thank you.

Theresa Villiers – 2014 Speech on Moving Northern Ireland Politics Forwards

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, at the Assembly Buildings in Belfast on 16th April 2014.

It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning and I’d like to thank Rev Donald Watts for organising and Rev Rob Craig for hosting this event.

Today I want to look at how we might move politics forward in Northern Ireland.

I know that the churches continue to have a key role in healing divisions, promoting reconciliation and helping to build the shared future that we all want to see.

And on behalf of the UK government I’d like to express my appreciation for all that you do for our community here in Northern Ireland.

It’s now nearly 20 years since the first ceasefires and just over 16 years since the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.

That agreement – along with its successors at St Andrews and Hillsborough – has helped transform politics here.

And today we’re over half way through the second term of the second Assembly since devolution was restored in May 2007.

That’s the longest period of unbroken devolved government in Northern Ireland since the closure of the Stormont Parliament in 1972.

Not bad when one considers the commentators who predicted that a coalition led by the DUP and Sinn Féin couldn’t last 6 months, let alone more than 6 years.

And the executive can cite a number of real achievements, not the least of which is its continued success in bringing foreign direct investment to Northern Ireland.

This has made Belfast the second most popular city in the UK for inward investment.

Another significant step forward was the publication by the First and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland’s first ever locally agreed community relations strategy: Together: Building a United Community.

Delivery

As the First Minister highlighted in Washington recently, most decisions taken by the executive don’t go to a vote given the amount of consensus that exists, while the deputy First Minister stressed the stability of the institutions.

But for all that the executive has proven stable and delivered in a number of areas, I believe that there is a clear public perception that more still needs to be done.

That comes across in successive opinion polls and also in many conversations I’ve had across Northern Ireland.

Of course I understand that a mandatory coalition that embraces 5 parties with fundamentally divergent views on constitutional, economic and social issues was never going to be easy to operate.

Yet one of the central features of the 1998 settlement, as amended at St Andrews in 2006, was precisely to bring together politicians from different traditions and show that they could deliver for the good of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.

It’s crucial that we make it work

So this morning I want to offer a few thoughts on how we might move things on here, to help the transition away from the politics of identity to a stronger focus on the politics of delivery.

The legacy of the past

First, I believe that the political situation here would be significantly improved if the parties could reach an agreement on dealing with flags, parading and the past.

We’ve seen over the past couple of years how disputes over flags and parades can lead to serious public disorder, at a great cost to the police, the executive, the economy and to Northern Ireland’s international reputation.

But the past too has the capacity to poison the political atmosphere, as demonstrated by the controversy over the so-called ‘on-the-runs’.

These matters are of course now being examined by a number of inquiries, including the judge-led inquiry established by the Prime Minister.

Lady Justice Hallett’s examination of the scheme now needs to run its course.

But I’d like to reiterate one point.

This government does not believe in amnesties.

We believe in the rule of law and that people who committed terrorist crimes must face the consequences if the evidence exists to prosecute.

And if at any point when we inherited this scheme in May 2010 we had believed that it amounted to an amnesty we would have stopped it immediately.

For me, there’s no doubt that the reaction to the scheme after the prosecution of John Downey was halted has reinforced the need to find an agreed way forward on the past.

One that allows us to put the era of side deals firmly behind us. A mechanism that is balanced, transparent and accountable and allows us to get on with building a better future for the people of Northern Ireland.

So I welcome the fact that the parties are continuing their work on the issues considered by the Haass process.

And I am urging them to stick with it because the reality is that only an agreement negotiated by Northern Ireland’s own locally elected political leadership is going to be viable.

Any attempt to impose solutions over the heads of that political leadership just isn’t going to work.

So those discussions do need to make progress and there will be no lack of encouragement or support from the UK government and we welcome the support and encouragement Irish government has also given to the parties throughout the negotiations.

There are of course some who believe that the best way to deal with the past is to forget it.

I understand that sentiment, but as the OTR controversy has demonstrated I don’t believe that’s a viable option.

Let me explain why.

Northern Ireland’s Operation Banner was the longest operation in British military history.

Over 250,000 men and women served in the RUC and the military over its 30 year history and I am utterly convinced that the vast majority did so with the greatest distinction, honour, integrity and courage.

The fact that many gave their lives in service to the community here in Northern Ireland is something for which we should always be deeply grateful and which should never ever be forgotten.

We owe all of them a huge debt of gratitude, not least because without their self-sacrifice and their service, the conditions for the peace process would never have been created and Northern Ireland would not be the place it is today.

And whatever process emerges from the current discussions, that is a message that I and the UK government will reiterate whenever we get the opportunity.

It was a message the Prime Minister put very clearly when he broke new ground in his response to the Bloody Sunday report in the frankness of the apology he gave for what happened that day.

We have been and we will continue to be willing to take responsibility where state agencies have acted wrongly, but the misdeeds of the few should never be allowed to tarnish the heroism of the many.

I have acknowledged on many occasions the great difficulty around efforts to address the legacy of the Troubles.

I appreciate the understandable concern that new structures and processes could lead to a one sided approach which focuses on the minority of deaths in which the state was involved rather than the great majority which were solely the responsibility of the terrorists from whichever part of the community they came.

So I have always approached this issue which caution.

But I’ve also made very clear that if the architecture proposed by Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan forms part of a package eventually agreed by the political parties here, then the UK government will play our part in working with the new institutions.

We fully understand the benefits that an agreement could bring to Northern Ireland and we too are prepared to be part of the compromise needed to bring that about.

The need for a fresh approach on the past is becoming ever more vital because of the increasing pressure the status quo is placing on Northern Ireland’s institutions, with inquests, cases in Strasbourg, freedom of information requests and Troubles related investigations by the police and Police Ombudsman.

All this is placing a major burden on the policing and justice system with a recent CJI report estimating that the Northern Ireland executive now spends over £30m a year on legacy issues.

The combined impact of the various processes underway means a detailed trawl through hundreds of thousands of documents, with the greatest burden falling on the PSNI who in most cases have to decide what it is safe to disclose publicly and what must be kept secret in order to protect national security and the lives of individuals.

At least with a new process, agreed by Northern Ireland’s political leaders, there is scope to write in from the start the need for an objective balance and with proper weight and a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries. Rather than the almost exclusive concentration on the activities of the state which characterises so many of the processes currently underway.

And there is scope for structured oversight by bodies representing different shades of opinion to try keep the process fair and historically accurate and to prevent it being hijacked by any one particular interest group or viewpoint.

And as we approach another marching season there is no doubt that an agreement on the way forward on flags, parading and the past – even in outline – would send a powerful global message about the ability of Northern Ireland’s politicians to find solutions even to the most divisive of issues.

Crucially though I also believe that agreement on the Haass agenda could free up the space for politicians to focus more on other issues that are critical to our future, such as rebalancing the economy, reforming the public sector and building a genuinely shared future.

Because, let’s face it, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t wake up on a Monday morning worrying about the past, flags or parades.

While these are important matters, the priorities for most people are issues like jobs, pensions, transport, schools and hospitals, and that’s where they expect their politicians to focus their energies, not tied up with fighting the battles of yesterday.

Difficult political choices

So that leads me to my second point about moving politics forward. The need to move beyond the issues that have dominated political debate here and recognise that difficult choices are often needed in order to deliver the services the public want and expect.

For example, I believe that people in Northern Ireland deserve the same protection from organised crime as people in Great Britain now have through the work of the National Crime Agency.

To me, it is deeply regrettable that despite months of talks and a real willingness by David Ford and the Home Office to be flexible, some parties remain opposed to the Assembly legislation needed to allow the NCA to operate with its full range of powers here.

That means Northern Ireland’s ability to fight some of the most despicable crimes is weakened.

Be in no doubt, it may have ‘National’ in its name but the UK government completely accepts the crucial importance of ensuring that NCA’s operations in Northern Ireland are fully consistent with the devolution settlement.

That‘s why the Home Secretary has agreed a number of significant changes to provide the necessary assurance and guarantee the primacy of the Chief Constable.

And I believe it’s now time for the executive to press ahead on the NCA and to put common sense and the interests of the public above ideology, so that the NCA is allowed to work properly in Northern Ireland for the good of all citizens.

Similarly on welfare reform, the devolution settlement gives the choice to the parties of the Executive here.

They can accept the welfare reforms the UK government has taken forward, along with the important flexibilities which Minister McCausland has secured to reflect the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland. Or they can go it alone and stick with a flawed system which too often leaves people trapped on welfare and punished for doing the right thing and going out to work.

That choice rests with political leaders here, but so too does the cost of that choice.

And there should be no doubt that the cost of that choice could rise steeply in future years, not least when the computers supporting the old system are shut down and the executive is left with the prohibitively expensive and difficult task of procuring and running their own system.

And finally, the executive faces choices on economic reform.

I’m well aware of the central place ministers here give to the devolution and reduction of corporation tax.

But if the answer on that is yes to devolution, this reform will only provide that shot in the arm the parties here hope for if it is one part of a suite of measures to make Northern Ireland a more competitive place to do business.

Issues such as labour market reform, planning reform and public sector reform must all be addressed as well if the economy here is to be rebalanced in the way all the parties say they support.

Opposition

The third way in which politics could be moved forward here is through the evolution of the devolved institutions.

Let me be clear, power sharing and inclusivity are enshrined in the Belfast Agreement and the government is not going to undermine any of those principles.

Far from it, we will continue to uphold them robustly as we have all of the institutions established by the Agreements.

Yet at the same time nobody can plausibly argue that the institutions must be set in stone for all time.

Political institutions the world over adapt and change.

As the founding father of modern Conservatism – the Irishman Edmund Burke – once put it:

A state without the means of change is without means of preservation.

And there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative.

After all, democracy does rely on voters being offered a choice and being able to exercise it.

That’s why this government is clear that we would welcome moves that facilitate a more normal system at Stormont that allows for formal opposition, so long as a way can be found to do this which is consistent with power sharing and inclusivity.

But we also believe that if or how this happens really has to be primarily for parties in the Assembly to take forward, not least because it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters that might characterise an opposition, such as speaking rights, financial assistance and committee chairmanships.

And I’d like to thank my colleagues Lord Empey and Lord Lexden for using the House of Lords debates on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act to move this issue forward in a significant way.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, we need to move away from the politics of the past based largely around identity, to the politics of the future based around delivery.

And our ability to do that will be greatly strengthened if an accommodation can be reached on flags, parading and the past, the issues that continue to create such tension, division and disorder.

At the same time some difficult decisions are needed if we’re to build a more prosperous economy, a safer community and a stronger society.

And we should also consider the scope for our political institutions to evolve in order to ensure that our democracy is vibrant and politicians held properly to account.

Last week we saw the first ever state visit by the Irish President to the United Kingdom.

The visit was a spectacular success and I felt very honoured to play a part in it.

It was a further demonstration the transformation of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and the bonds of affection and mutual respect that now unite us across these islands.

It was also a welcome opportunity to celebrate the immense contribution that men and women of Irish nationality and heritage make to life in Britain.

I am in no doubt that as Her Majesty the Queen said at that memorable state banquet at Windsor; they have made Britain a better place.

The word ‘historic’ can sometimes be over-used but the events of last week genuinely deserve that description and none of this would have been possible without Northern Ireland’s peace process and the political progress it has made possible.

And I sincerely hope that the friendship and reconciliation between the UK and Ireland which the visit so visibly demonstrated can provide a helpful backdrop to assist Northern Ireland in completing its journey towards genuine reconciliation and a society no longer fractured by sectarian division.

As the two heads of state made so very clear, Northern Ireland’s political leaders will have the full support of both the UK and Irish governments as they strive to make progress towards that crucial goal.

Thank you.