‘Constitutional integrity of UK essential save NI Assembly’ Lords hear

The constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom must be fully restored or there is no point in legislating to strengthen the powersharing arrangements at Stormont, Nigel Dodds has told the House of Lords.

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 6:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 7:16 pm
A loyalist protest in east Belfast against the NI Protocol. Photo: Declan Roughan / Press Eye

During a debate on a Bill designed to make the NI Executive more stable, Lord Dodds said that the integrity of the UK internal market has been “breached by the Northern Ireland Protocol,”

Introducing the Bill for its second reading, Lord Caine Lord Caine said: “The Bill faithfully implements the commitments of the UK Government as set out in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) to make the devolved institutions more resilient and more sustainable.”.

Lord Dodds said that unless agreement is reached between the UK and the EU on how to remove the Irish Sea trade border, or the Article 16 clause activated by the UK Government, then “that will have the inevitable consequence of making the institutions which we are debating here tonight inoperable”.

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Lord Dodds said: “If neither of those happens, unionists in the Executive will of course be in a completely untenable position”.

He added: “It is important that, as we see progress on aspects of NDNA, we also see progress on that commitment, and that the Northern Ireland Protocol is addressed in a way which brings stability to the institutions in Northern Ireland; we have yet to see that happen.

“Of course, discussions are continuing and we are aware of those negotiations. People said that there could not be any renegotiation; effectively, that is what is happening.

“People said the original form of the protocol had to be rigorously implemented; we have seen that bypassed. That is all good – it is progress – but the current discussions cannot be strung out much longer. We know the time has almost run out for those discussions, and by the end of the year it will have run out completely.”Lord Dodds went on to say: “Action will have to be taken, either in the form of an agreement between the European Union and the government, addressing the issues that are outstanding in all aspects – both constitutional and economic – or in the form of UK action to fully restore Northern Ireland’s position in the internal market and its constitutional integrity.

“The invocation of Article 16 may or may not be part of that, but it can be only part of it, because it is not a solution in itself.

“If neither of those happens, unionists in the Executive will of course be in a completely untenable position, where the political processes and the political balance will not exist in terms of the institutions.”

Speaking during the same debate on Monday, Baroness Kate Hoey asked for an assurance that the NI Executive would be able to continue operating in the event of one of the largest parties staging a boycott – as happened when Sinn Fein walked out in 2017. “Will the government give a commitment that, if this should ever happen again and the Executive were to collapse, this would not happen again – even if it does offend the Dublin government?” Baroness Hoey said.

“As many people have said, the proposed changes in the Bill have been made by the government to try to improve the stability of Northern Ireland institutions and to improve transparency and accountability.

“It is rather ironic that we are talking about accountability when we have had discussions over the past few months on the protocol, where there has been no accountability.

“Along with all the unionist, pro-Union parties in Northern Ireland, I am involved in the Court of Appeal action, which started again today.

“It is absolutely fascinating, and it is worth telling your Lordships what the government have said today: they have gone back on their assertion that the Acts of Union are subject to implicit repeal, as they argued in court at the first hearing.

“Instead, they have suggested that Section 7A(3) merely suspends the Acts of Union for as long as the protocol exists.

“What an incredible suggestion. It suggests that the very legal contract that is the Union – the Acts of Union – an be suspended as a requirement of the protocol. The implication is that, while the protocol remains, Northern Ireland’s position in the Union is suspended.”

Baroness Hoey added: “But it is also important that, as has been pointed out, the New Decade, New Approach agreement of January 2020 has, first, never actually been voted on or even debated in the Assembly. However, it is there and it is the agreement that we are working to – but this is only one aspect of it.

“I join with other noble Lords who have said that they want to know when the rest of it – the bits that actually make a huge difference – will be brought in.

“Some of the parties have been pushing particular aspects of it. It is very important that the government do not look at one area alone but at the whole thing. The question of internal trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in particular is absolutely crucial. We have to get that legislation very quickly.”

Commenting on the new Troubles legacy legislation due to be introduced by the government – described by many as an effective ‘amnesty’ for Troubles-related offences – Baroness Hoey said:

“We have had more than a dozen partial amnesties since the 1998 Good Friday agreement, starting with the early release of prisoners, those guilty of the grossest abuses of human rights. In the terrible case of Patsy Gillespie, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned, if the person had been got for that at the time, probably now they would be out on a Royal pardon or some other way in which those guilty of the grossest abuse of human rights – murder – have been let off.

“Those many parts of amnesty have been advocated, proposed and agreed by the Irish and British governments in the past, so I find it a little surprising that the Irish Government are getting so angry about this when, in the past, they have gone along with it and asked for it.

“We will have to discuss this legacy Bill at some stage, but I hope that people will look at the past and the history of it before they make their decision.”

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