Urgent Question on restoring devolution in Northern Ireland

21 October 2019

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tony Lloyd MP, has asked an urgent question on restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.

The devolved government of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly, currently has no Executive and has been suspended since 2017. In 2018, Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act, which has ensured services in Northern Ireland continue to run. The provisions in the Act were due to expire today.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to comment on the progress of restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.

"Northern Ireland departments can continue to make decisions"

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith MP, said that he had brought a statutory instrument to extend the deadline. This ensures that services in Northern Ireland will continue to run. However, he stressed that this was not a substitute for an active legislature and that the Act only provided guidance for the civil service. He also detailed when the legal framework for same-sex marriage and abortion rights in Northern Ireland would be put in place.

The Minister said:

"The period for Executive formation under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 is due to expire at the end of today, Monday 21 October. So today I have laid before Parliament a Statutory Instrument to extend the period for executive formation to 13 January 2020. That has the effect of ensuring that Northern Ireland departments can continue to make decisions in accordance with the Act in the absence of executive ministers."

"Not been forthcoming at the level that we expect"

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tony Lloyd MP responded by asking the Minister what the effects of Brexit, with or without a deal, will be on a Northern Ireland without an Executive, and whether civil servants will have to make decisions on implementation. He also asked the Minister to confirm that the police in Northern Ireland have the resources to deal with any unrest during the Brexit period.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said:

"Both the number and the importance of the issues that the Secretary of State has already raised with the House indicates how important it is that we have regular dialogue on Northern Ireland, but let me say to Government business managers that that has not been forthcoming at the level that we expect. [...] In particular, can the Secretary of State assure the House that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources that it needs in the event of any form of civic disturbance [during Brexit]? [...] Will he also rule out the situation, as we have had in the past, of recommitting the Army to Northern Ireland?"

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