Government must not repeat mistakes of the past, Paisley warns
Violence and division could return to the streets of Northern Ireland in the absence of a Stormont government or direct rule from Westminster, a DUP MP has warned.
Ian Paisley urged ministers to learn from past mistakes as MPs debated the Northern Ireland Budget (No 2) Bill.
The North Antrim MP said: “I was always taught the purpose of history and the study of history was to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
“One of the mistakes of the past in the ‘50s and ‘60s was that this place became disinterested in what was happening on the ground in Northern Ireland and we know then what happened. If we don’t learn from that past we will repeat by the disinterest of this place what happened then.”
Former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith later said that ministers had been guilty of an “extraordinary, spectacular level of inactivity” and warned that “kicking the can in the distance” would no longer work.
He said: “We run the risk that the apathy that many have talked of in Northern Ireland does harden into cynicism and on this side of the Irish Sea it hardens into longstanding disinterest, now that cannot be allowed to continue.
“I say to both the minister and the Conservative governing front bench and indeed to my own Labour front bench that one of the lessons of history we need to learn, if we’ve got in effect direct rule we cannot afford to be squeamish about calling it direct rule, even those of us who are devolutionist in this place must accept that at some point enough will be enough.”
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) earlier accused Labour of using Northern Ireland to score political points.
He said: “It is a certain irony that on these benches here for the last year I have heard member after member stand up and say how concerned they are about Brexit negotiations and the impact it would have on Northern Ireland and the impact it would have on the Good Friday Agreement and the impact it would have on community relations and how concerned they are about the people of Northern Ireland, that when it comes to the Budget for the people of Northern Ireland they cannot be seen.
“I think that the irony is not lost on the people of Northern Ireland - the pseudo-concern that we’ve heard from the Labour Party during the debate on Brexit is little more than an opportunity to score political points, to conveniently use Northern Ireland as a means of trying to argue against the referendum result and against the people who wanted to get us out of the EU.”
Shadow Northern Ireland minister Stephen Pound said the Labour Party would “never, ever turn our backs on Northern Ireland”.
Responding to Mr Wilson’s comments, he said: “We will never ever shunt this off into the distance, we will always be thinking and concerned about Northern Ireland.
“If we’re not here physically, believe you me we are here mentally and we are here emotionally and our commitment is as strong as it always has been and I hope it will always be in the future.”