UK Politics

Labour Party: Shaun Woodward's speech to Labour Party Conference

News   •   Sep 28, 2010 11:25 BST

Shaun Woodward MP, Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, speaking to Labour Party Conference today, said:

Conference. It has been an enormous privilege to serve as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The opportunity to serve and the privilege to work with the people of Northern Ireland will always be with me.

This has been another historic year for Northern Ireland.

The third and final Agreement of the peace process - a huge achievement for Labour in power.

The commitment in 1997 to bring peace to Northern Ireland, this Party’s dream, this Party’s policy - the process which began with Good Friday Agreement - in the early hours of February 5th this year finally came to its hoped for, but never inevitable, conclusion.

At Hillsborough Castle the third and final Agreement of the peace process was reached.

Policing and justice transferred from Westminster to Stormont.

Power devolved from Ministers in Britain - to power in the hands of Ministers elected in Northern Ireland.

The road to the Agreement was hard - almost eluding our best endeavours.

For ten tense days, future stability hung in the balance.

The Agreement - stronger - because for all we nurtured, they - the people of Northern Ireland - made it.

Previous Agreements, Belfast and St Andrews, were made between British and Irish Governments, and included the political parties of Northern Ireland.

This - then - unique.

Belonging to the people who made it - the communities of Northern Ireland.

So, today, Power. Wealth. Opportunity - rest in the hands - not of Westminster - but of Stormont.

Power fully devolved to the people of Northern Ireland.

Conference, to all the politicians in Northern Ireland, to my Ministerial colleague Paul Goggins, to Gordon Brown.

To Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.

For the relentless support of the American Government, their Ambassador Lou Susman and especially the work of Secretary of State Clinton.

To all of them our thanks.

In Northern Ireland, as TS Eliot might have said, time past and time present are all involved in time future.

Indeed to move forward you must deal with the Troubles - the legacy issues of the past.

Conference, just four months ago, finally after nearly twelve years and £200 million, The Saville Inquiry was published.

The events of Bloody Sunday can and should never be forgotten.

Our soldiers in Northern Ireland performed heroically. Over many years they saved thousands of lives.

But on that fateful Sunday this was not the case.

The Inquiry achieve d what it set out to do, to establish the truth.

And for those families whose loved ones lost their lives, not only the painful truth, but now - a full and unreserved apology from the British Government.

Conference, The Prime Minister was right to give the apology. Our Party joins - in that apology.

Next month Parliament debates the Report Inquiry.

Many lessons have already been learnt. But questions remain.

Beyond Saville there are questions of other terrible events in the story of The Troubles.

The Inquiry into the death of Billy Wright just published.

Inquiries into the death of Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill publishing soon.

These Inquiries are an essential part of building the peace. Building trust.

So, some cautionary advice to the new Coalition Government.

When Lord Saville published his report, the Prime Minister said no more costly Inquiries.

So what now of the Inquiry into the death of P at Finucane?

Conference Northern Ireland needs a process to deal with its past.

The Prime Minister rightly commended the work of the Historical Inquiries Team.

But the HET has neither the human resource, nor budget, to conduct complex inquiries like Bloody Sunday.

Or Billy Wright.

The public responses to the Consultative Group on the Past found no consensus. No clear way forward.

This isn’t a time to throw you hands in the air.

It’s a time to start work. To find a process. Build a consensus.

Help the politicians find the road not yet taken.

Don’t leave people held in the grip of the past.

Deal with the past.

If the Government is to rule out Inquiries, it must replace it with a process, fair to all, to deal with the past.

Conference, when it comes to ensuring stability of the political process, stability of the peace process, we will give the Government our support.

We will not p lay politics with the peace process.

We wouldn’t do it during the General Election.

We won’t do it now.

But we will give candid advice.

First and foremost, be fair.

Fair to Unionists. Fair to Nationalists and Republicans. Fair to all the Parties.

Being fair, even handed, neutral.

Only this will command confidence from people of Northern Ireland.

Always act as honest broker.

Conference, there are two challenges to the politics and peace of Northern Ireland.

First, the economy - and the recovery from recession.

Second, the threat to security.

On the economy, devolution means Stormont and the Executive, deciding how money is spent.

Local Ministers deciding the budgets of Departments.

No public service in Northern Ireland can be immune from its fair share of fiscal responsibility.

Decisions for spending on health or education are - as matters of principle, no different f rom those in Scotland or Wales.

But the new Coalition Government in Westminster must recognize - as did we - the legacy of the Troubles, means special circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Special because of the past.

Special because of the present.

In fixing the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Chancellor must give particular care to the needs of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

I do not doubt that greater efficiency can be found by the PSNI - just as it can by my own police in Merseyside or in any force.

But the threat from dissidents, their campaign of violence and murder is a real and present danger for the brave men and women of the PSNI.

Indeed, let me say something about this threat.

Last week the Head of MI5 set out the threats to national security.

For the last three years, dissident ambition and activity in Northern Ireland have grown.

Year in, year out.

This year, more than thirty a ttacks or attempted attacks.

Last year- the whole year - twenty.

These men - and women - are ruthless.

Give them: The Real IRA, Continuity IRA the chance - they will kill.

Their deranged and psychotic intent to murder.

Destroy the politics.

Destroy the peace.

Yesterday, their targets mainly security forces – especially the PSNI.

Today their targets widen.

Their reckless intent puts at risk the lives of the public.

This threat then is real.

A threat to Northern Ireland.

A growing threat in Britain.

Here in this great city, the people of Manchester know all too well the consequences of a terrorist attack.

The Security Service last week raised the threat level in Britain.

Greater than any time since the Belfast Agreement.

They were right to make the assessment.

The Government right to publish it.

So here we must be vigilant.

In Northern Irel and the police must have the resources to meet the challenge.

Not just counter terrorism but community policing.

For today’s terrorists have no community support.

So different from the past.

Their crimes have no supporters.

They act alone.

They are alone.

And in all we do, we must ensure they can never build community support.

So community policing matters.

Building confidence in legitimate policing is the greatest brake on dissident growth.

Break that confidence, take community policing off the streets - the risks are huge.

Conference, so often in politics we are mired in cynicism.

Too often we give cause for people to question motive.

So never forget what you helped achieve in Northern Ireland.

We helped bring peace.

We believed it could be done.

We worked to get it done.

This year our work was done.

Truly we achieved together what we could never have achi eved alone.

We achieved our goal.

Of Northern Ireland, you should be very very proud.