Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill

Published date : 26 October, 2021
I welcome the Minister to his position, and look forward to working with him. Let me also add my thanks to all who have contributed to the Bill’s passage. Securing a prosperous, peaceful and well-governed Northern Ireland is obviously in the interests of everyone there, but it is also hugely in the interests of everyone throughout these islands, and I believe that the Bill contributes to that in its own small way.

I will try to keep my remarks comparatively brief. Let me say first that democratic politics, wherever it takes place, needs its participants and practitioners to have space in which to talk, discuss, reflect and consult, and, above all, freedom to take the risks involved in finding consensus, acknowledging common ground, and doing the heavy lifting of finding agreement. While deadlines and ultimatums obviously have their place in politics, I think the wider community is much better served when we see that heavy lifting going on, and the better, more secure and sustainable outcomes to which it leads. However, it is not just politics in the abstract that needs space; it is also the business of government.

Any decision taken through the institutions of Northern Ireland is almost certain to be better than any decision that can ever be taken on behalf of Northern Ireland in this place, simply because it will be rooted in those democratic institutions and moulded to the contours of public opinion through the politicians whom we elect, and because it makes local decision makers in Northern Ireland more accountable for the choices they have been elected to make; and the politics is all the more transparent and healthy for it. That is what happens when we give the politics the space in which to work.

To the extent that today’s proceedings help to remove some of the time pressures caused by the need to fill ministerial positions or to form an Administration, we support the Bill. Obviously having Ministers in office without their positions being confirmed by a current electoral mandate is not ideal, but it does provide continuity in caretaker form, and efficient governance in the absence of an Executive when it comes to dealing with everyday matters. I believe that the Bill has the potential to enhance transparency, accountability and at least the opportunities for good governance, and on that basis it has our support.

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