Presidential visit strengthens relations

Last week President Michael D Higgins made a historic first visit to the UK by an Irish head of state.  I was delighted to be present in Westminster when he addressed both Houses of Parliament.  He made a thoughtful and well delivered speech that touched on the history between both countries, but also wove in some of his own personal story. The trip went very well and generated a lot of positive coverage that I believe can only add to the good relations that currently exists between our Countries.

McDonnell pays respect to friend and colleague Paul Goggins

SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell MP has paid tribute to former NIO Minister Paul Goggins following news of the death of the MP for Wythenshawe last night.

Wed 8th January

Dr McDonnell said:

“I was deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Paul Goggins last night. As an NIO minister he made a huge contribution to solidifying the peace process in Northern Ireland and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for all of his work.

“I had the privilege of knowing Paul as a colleague, a wise counsellor and a friend. Aside from his outstanding ability as a minister in Northern Ireland, everyone who knew him will attest to his tremendous personal humility and deep compassion for those on the margins of society. A man of great faith, his first concern was always for the vulnerable.

“On behalf of the SDLP and myself, I wish to extend my deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences to Paul’s wife, Wyn, his children Matthew, Theresa and Dominic and his wide circle of friends. He will be sorely missed.”

McDonnell questions Secretary of State on implementation of Haass/O’Sullivan proposals

SDLP Leader and MP for South Belfast Alasdair McDonnell has questioned the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers on the UK government’s commitment to working with political parties and the Irish government to ensure the implementation of the Haass/O’Sullivan proposals .

Wed 8th January

Dr McDonnell was speaking after a statement made by the Secretary of State in relation to the Haass/O’Sullivan process.

He asked:

“The Secretary of State will recall that on previous occasions when the Haass process was mentioned that I had urged a much greater involvement at an earlier stage by both the British and Irish governments to ensure that a positive outcome with a determined implementation and legislative programme was put in place. Because it wasn’t just about the talks themselves or the conclusion they came to, there needs to be a major follow through process. That is still required.

“I believe that a lot has been achieved. It’s not just that the glass is half full, the glass is three quarters full.

“Can I Urge SOS to ensure that her government now engages more intensively and hands on, proactively, with the parties, with the Irish government and with Richard Haass and his team and takes the lead to ensure implementation of considerable progress. And ensure legislation, where required, is initiated and to ensure that the resolution of outstanding issues is achieved.”

McDonnell: Haass correct that failure to reach agreement unfair to victims and survivors

SDLP Party Leader Dr. Alasdair McDonnell has said that Dr. Richard Haass was correct in his assessment that the failure to reach agreement is unfair to victims and survivors.

Fri 10th January

“On the BBC, Dr. Richard Haass quite rightly expressed his frustration about the failure to reach agreement despite six months of talks. Dr. Haass was correct in his assessment that the failure to reach agreement is unfair to victims and survivors.”

“The SDLP have been clear about the next steps. Action is now required by the two governments and the five parties. The two governments have made it clear for example that they accept Haass /O’Sullivan on the past. This should be an impetus for the two governments and five parties together to decisively take forward addressing the past.

“A five party working group must be established and must focus on implementation and legislation and work to tight timelines in order to create certainty, remove doubt, and build hope”

McDonnell: Autumn statement cold comfort to hard working families

SDLP Leader and MP for South Belfast Alasdair McDonnell has said that the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement demonstrates the government’s continued failure to deliver for those hit hardest by the downturn.

Dr McDonnell was speaking after Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement in the House of Commons today:

“This Conservative led government has once again made its priorities clear. Those priorities lie not with hard working families, struggling to make ends meet. Nor do they lie with young people struggling to secure employment in Northern Ireland who continue to consider emigration their only option. They lie only with Tory self interest groups, with big business and the well off.

“The Chancellor told us today that the economy is getting better. There may be some truth in that but it refers only to those at the top of the economic tree. Those who find themselves at the bottom continue to endure the harsh fiscal climate that has seen many small enterprises close their doors; many families endure long, cold winters while they struggle to keep their homes warm.

“While George Osborne confidently claimed ‘the plan is working’, more and more people are realising that the plan the government are working from is far from that which they promised 3 years ago.

“This statement is little more than smoke and mirrors. Policies like the abolition of National Insurance for under 21s are completely undermined by others such as raising the state pension age. Those young people who receive a small short term benefit will pay that back with interest as they’re forced to work well into the Autumn of their lives.

“Even the increase in the Northern Ireland block grant is undermined by this government. We’re promised an extra £136m over two years but the government’s insistence that we adopt their draconian Welfare Reform legislation was estimated earlier this year to cost the Northern Ireland economy £750m per year. “The Chancellor’s statement may well be an exercise in optics but it will be cold comfort to those who have suffered most since downturn began. We will continue to oppose the government’s policy of slashing services and inflicting pain on our most vulnerable.”

McDonnell: Haass will shape our future society

“There is a duty on political parties to seize the opportunity presented by the Haass talks or risk condemning future generations to division and uncertainty. I really welcomed the opportunity to hear from Dr Richard Haass at today’s Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. Political leaders must grasp the nettle and take the unique opportunity presented by the Haass talks to move this society forward.

“In coming to these negotiations we must be mindful of what sort of society we want to see emerging. In that society people will have the right to fly flags in the right circumstances and people will have the right to parade where dialogue has taken place. However in that society people will also accept that with such rights come responsibilities.

“In that society the pain of victims will not be buried but will be addressed by a meaningful truth and reconciliation process. In that society we won’t see insensitive parades that commemorate or glorify violence or paramilitarism.

“There needs to be a genuine commitment on the part of all political parties to be prepared to give and take so our society can move to a better future. We can no longer be trapped in the straitjacket of our past. The SDLP are ambitious for the Haass talks and with that political will we can reach a solution that will see a much more stable society emerge.

“We also need to see a rule-book for flags and parades resulting from the Haass talks and political parties should step up to the plate and contribute to that. If they fail to do so we could tolerate Dr Haass imposing his own solutions. However, I sincerely hope that leaders here can do all they can to ensure they write this particular rule-book.”