- CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY -
Can I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it.
I join with her in condemning the disgraceful violence we have seen over the last number of weeks. The serious rioting, the attacks on the police and the threats against elected representatives have been appalling, including against the Honourable Member for Belfast East who has behaved throughout with real dignity and courage.
This violence would not be acceptable in London. It would not be acceptable in Cardiff. It would not be acceptable in Edinburgh. And it is not acceptable in Belfast.
People in Northern Ireland need to know that the UK Government is giving this the highest priority: that Northern Ireland matters.
So can I ask the Secretary of State what discussions she has had with the Prime Minister about the recent violence and what discussions he has had or intends to have with Northern Ireland Ministers about what might be done to support them?
Mr Speaker, the dissident republican terrorist attempt to murder a police officer and his family over Christmas was sickening. It reminds us, as the Secretary of State has said, of the ongoing threat from those who wish to destroy the peace and progress. It is good that the police have made arrests in relation to David Black's murder, and it sends out a clear message that the perpetrators of these crimes will be brought to justice.
The public disorder and violence we have seen on the streets began, as we know, when the decision was taken by Belfast City Council that the union flag should only be flown on designated days. In a democracy you cannot try and change decisions by the use of force. Will the Secretary of State join me with me in saying that those who do break the law can expect to be dealt with by the full force of the law?
Violence cannot be allowed to win.
And once again the PSNI have shown exceptional bravery and courage even at great personal cost with over 60 officers already injured. So let us once again commend them for their professionalism and dedication to duty.
The Chief Constable has clearly stated that senior figures from the Ulster Volunteer Force are involved in much of the violence. What assessment has she made of loyalist paramilitary involvement?
Does she agree with me that attacks by paramilitaries on the police and elected representatives are matters of national security, and is she confident that the PSNI have the resources to continue this level of commitment without impacting on their other policing duties?
Mr Speaker, today I was due to be visiting a project in Belfast to help young people back to work. I have seen in communities across Northern Ireland, both nationalist and unionist, initiatives to try and ensure that every young person has hope, every community looks to the future, jobs are created and everything possible is done to overcome sectarianism and the divisions of the past.
Much of this is devolved, but will the Secretary of State ensure that the consequences of any of her government`s economic and social policies are fully considered with respect to Northern Ireland?
Deprivation, disengagement and alienation in any community is a challenge but one that if not met, in Northern Ireland, can have particular and dangerous consequences.
Mr Speaker, I want to close today by saying clearly that although this violence is serious, worrying and wrong, and that it must stop, we will not and cannot let it undo all of the good work being done in Northern Ireland. We have continuing work to do to reassure people outside of Northern Ireland that it is a fantastic place, open for business and tourism.
And we must do all we can to highlight all that is good, and indeed there is so much that is good.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the scenes we have witnessed in recent weeks on our TV screens do not represent the real face of Northern Ireland? We need to work together to find answers to the difficult questions about how to overcome sectarianism, deal with contentious issues and confront the past.
That won't happen through violence but only by dialogue based on mutual respect. A respect of both Britishness and Irishness.
There are many people engaged in ongoing work on these issues that is being done quietly and effectively. We must extend and develop that. The majority of people I speak to, especially young people, offer real hope for the future. Let us encourage them and not allow the actions of a few damn them all.
There has been real progress in the last number of years in Northern Ireland.
It is not easy and sometimes there will be setbacks.
But these setbacks cannot and must not be allowed to define Northern Ireland and its people, or derail the progress that has been made.