Need to restore Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland – Brendan Smith T.D.

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There was violence again in recent nights in Derry and Belfast. It is most regrettable that a small minority is still involved in thuggery and violence. It is sectarian violence and it must be stopped. Like previous speakers, I welcome the fact that the six political parties represented in Stormont signed a strong agreement denouncing that violence. It is good that there is cross-community opposition to this thuggery and violence.

In the second half of 2018 – 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland are not functioning. It is most regrettable that at a time when there are huge political issues such as housing, welfare and health, as there are here, those day-to-day issues are not being dealt with because there is no executive in Northern Ireland, nor is there an assembly where the people’s voice can be heard. I welcome that the Intergovernmental Conference is being convened before the end of the month. It is an important aspect of strand three of the Good Friday Agreement. The convening of the conference is belated but welcome.

I tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier this week regarding some of the issues that might be raised at the Intergovernmental Conference and I am glad that the legacy issues are part of the business of the conference. Progress must be made on the legacy issues. The Stormont House Agreement has to be implemented. Some of us have taken the time to meet the victims of violence from both traditions. Many of the victims and their families have been waiting for justice and hoping that at least the truth will be found about the murder, mayhem and the taking of life by paramilitaries, as well as by some state forces. However, as time goes by memories fade as people get older. Unfortunately, people who lost family members and never got the truth about it are passing away. I appeal to the Tánaiste to ensure that this forms a central part of the negotiations with the British Government. It should be part of the Department’s daily work. I am glad the Tánaiste referred to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 and the fact that the British Government has ignored the unanimous request of this House on three different occasions. The least the British Government can do is give access to those papers and files to an international eminent independent legal person.

On Brexit, I was discussing Border policing with the Minister for Justice and Equality earlier. I told him that, after 1998, I did not think I would be back in the House talking about Border crossings. Unfortunately, that is a big part of the political narrative in the two counties I represent and along the central Border area. Deputy Breathnach referred to work done by ICBAN. Dr. Katy Hayward of Queen’s University Belfast carried out further survey work on behalf of ICBAN in regard to people’s awareness of and concern about Brexit. Some of the findings are quite stark with regard to the concerns about the negative aspects of Brexit already. Almost 600 people from the Border area took part in the study. Three quarters of them stated that Brexit has already impacted negatively on their daily lives, in terms of their living standards, their planning for education and planning to access services across the Border. Brexit is a huge issue and we must ensure there is no return to the Border of the past on our island. The uncertainty since the British referendum is causing economic hardship.

It is having a negative economic impact on the Border region. The Tánaiste will be aware from his time as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the interdependence of the economy North and South. Thankfully, over the past 20 years there has been huge growth in business on an all-Ireland basis but these are the businesses that will be most impacted, unfortunately, by Brexit.

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