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Speech by Vernon Coaker MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to the House of Commons, on violence in Northern Ireland

10th December 2012

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Mr Speaker can I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House to make this statement and for advance sight of it.

Let me say why I and the Opposition called on her to do so. There have been eight consecutive nights of violence in Northern Ireland. A Member of this House has had her life threatened and her party – the Alliance Party – has seen its representatives intimidated and subjected to violence, and its property attacked.  

Violence against the police has escalated to the extent that an attempt was made to murder a female officer last night, by breaking the window of a police car and throwing a petrol bomb inside while she was still in the vehicle. 

Dozens of officers have been injured after coming under sustained attack over the course of the week. And another murderous attack on the police was only narrowly avoided when vehicle carrying a rocket was apprehended in outside Derry.

Mr Speaker, it cannot go on. Westminster’s voice must be heard. 

Because this violence would not be tolerated in London, Cardiff or Edinburgh. And it shouldn’t be tolerated in Belfast.

A clear and strong message must be sent from this place today that says this violence is wrong, unacceptable and without justification. 

I once again pay tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for their dedication and bravery.

I spoke earlier to the Justice Minister, who I also met a few days ago in Belfast. Can she tell me what discussions she has had with him and the Chief Constable about resources and the police’s capacity to deal with this disorder, and the continuing national security threat? What is the latest security assessment?

The homes of public representatives have been vandalised and attacked. Local councillors – who are doing their best on behalf of the communities they serve – and their families have seen their homes targeted and vandalised. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that whether it’s a DUP councillor in Dungannon, two Alliance councillors and their family in Bangor, or the husband of a Sinn Féin councillor in Armagh, it is wrong and must stop.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with public representatives in Northern Ireland, for democracy and against violence. When a Member of Parliament is threatened and attacked, I view it as a threat and attack on all of us and everything we stand for. 

Mr Speaker, can she tell me what her assessment is of loyalist paramilitary involvement in the rioting? And does she view their actions as a threat to national security?

What discussions has she had with the Prime Minister about this? And has he discussed the ongoing violence with the First and deputy First Minister, or the Justice Minister?

I know there are underlying issues and I am realistic about the challenges we face. I have been with unionist and loyalist political representatives to visit areas in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland. And I want to say this. Honourable members and others from Northern Ireland are doing a really difficult job in these communities. I don’t doubt their sincerity, integrity or hard work. They are dealing with frustration and anger, and need support in helping to channel that away from violence and towards politics. And I will do what I can to help. And I make that offer in republican and nationalist communities too. 

But violence is never justified and it is wrong. It is damaging these communities. And until the violence stops we can’t even begin to discuss or do anything about the longer-term issues that need to be resolved.

What discussions has she had with political representatives about supporting work in these communities? Will she bring political leaders together to see what can be done, together?

Mr Speaker, I care deeply about Northern Ireland and its people. I know the Secretary of State and all other honourable members do too. I think it was important today that we came together as the United Kingdom House of Commons and said that. Northern Ireland matters. It is important. 

And I hope that we see this awful violence ended and that we can look forward to a 2013 in which Northern Ireland is showcased on the world stage as the great place it is.

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