SPEECH IN HOUSE OF COMMONS DETAILING WHY I AM UNABLE TO SUPPORT THE TRIGGERING OF ARTICLE 50

31 January 2017 – House of Commons

EUROPEAN UNION (NOTIFICATION OF WITHDRAWAL) BILL

I am unable to support this Bill and the triggering of article 50. Like Mr Clarke, I think that the whole operation is a bit like following a rabbit into the hole and hoping to emerge in Wonderland, with or without Alice.NIQJuly16thB2014PNG

Like my colleagues and many other Members, I do not seek to deny England or Wales their right to exit the European Union, if that is what the people of those nations have decided. I might disagree with the wisdom of that view, but that is not why I oppose the Bill. I have never pretended that the European Union was perfect or that it does not need reform—even radical reform—but the EU has delivered for Northern Ireland. It helped to deliver parity of esteem and prosperity for all sides of our community, and it has helped to bring peace in difficult times. European investment and access to the single market has done so much in the past 25 years to remake my city, Belfast. It is a world-leading city that faces the 21st century, having had a difficult 20th century, not least because of the hard work of hundreds of people who came to Belfast from across Europe to work and contribute positively to our society, and to help to build a better economy, in the process building prosperity.

I am here today on behalf of the people of South Belfast, where 70% voted to remain on a 70% turnout, so the result is without doubt. I ask the Government not to take away unnecessarily our membership of the EU, which has already done so much for my constituency and has the potential to do more. Queen’s University Belfast in the heart of my constituency is highly dependent on EU funding for its research and development, but I have received no guarantees—in fact, I have little expectation—that the Government will match that funding post-Brexit.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have already said, both here and elsewhere, that they have no desire to return to the borders of the past. I am glad to hear that, and so are the 30,000 people who cross the Irish border every day for work, but they need a bit more than warm words of comfort. They need a concrete arrangement between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels to sustain reasonable access to their livelihoods, but the Government seem to have missed the fact that our concerns in Northern Ireland go much deeper than just avoiding border posts. Our membership of the EU is written throughout the fabric of the Good Friday agreement, or the Belfast agreement as some prefer to call it. Our political settlement in 1998 keeps all our parties at the table and sustains a peace process, and hopefully a better prosperity process to follow. The EU values and rules that are written into the fabric of that agreement have helped to maintain stability. Without the EU, that stability would not have been obtained and maintained. Maintaining that stability and the settlement requires the principles of the Good Friday agreement to be underpinned in law throughout the exit process, both at the outset and in the final exit deal, and that is without even touching on the wider concerns that hon. Members have raised about the impact of Brexit on our universities, the rights of European citizens already living here and the rights of our own citizens who wish to study or work across the European Union.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on the role of the devolved Administrations, which I beg to differ from, it is in the Government’s interest to get this process right for Northern Ireland and to maintain the political stability that has been achieved. Indeed, as a co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the Government are obliged to sustain that stability.

It will be much harder to get things right and to restore stability in Northern Ireland if we rush to meet an artificial timetable that has been imposed unnecessarily by the Government. That is why I call on them, even at this late stage, not to rush now and regret later. I beg them to take the time to get this right for all of us. Earlier today the Secretary of State told us to trust the wisdom of the people. Well, there is no one I trust more with the future of Northern Ireland than the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain. I remind the House that people in Belfast South voted by 70%, on a 70% turnout, to stay in Europe. I hope that I am representing them and their views here today. With no answers—or, at the very best, foggy answers—about the border, our economy and protecting parity of esteem, my colleagues and I cannot vote to support the triggering of article 50.

DR. ALASDAIR MCDONNELL MP SIGNS HOLOCAUST EDUCATIONAL TRUST BOOK OF COMMITMENT

holocaust-memorial-day-27-jan-2017This week Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Friday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the lead up to and on Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The theme for this year’s commemorations is ‘How can life go on?’

After signing the Book of Commitment, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP commented:

“Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people from South Belfast to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. As the Holocaust moves from living history, to just history, it becomes ever more important that we take the time to remember the victims and also pay tribute to the survivors. I would encourage my constituents to show their support for such an important day.

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP for signing the Book of Commitment, signalling a continued commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust as well as challenging antisemitism, prejudice and bigotry in all its forms.

WHAT ARRANGEMENTS WILL THE UK GOVERNMENT MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE THE 70% OF MY CONSTITUENTS WHO VOTED TO REMAIN IN THE EU AND INTEND TO RETAIN THE BENEFITS?

On the 17 January 2017, I asked the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Mr David Davis  about what arrangement will the UK Government make to accommodate the 70% of my constituents who voted to remain in the EU and intend to retain the benefits.

Alasdair McDonnell “I commend the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) for her sanity and common sense, and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) for bringing a degree of integrity to the discussion.

Does the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU recognise that I, and thousands of others in AlasdairNIQJune112014Northern Ireland, will not be leaving the EU willingly? We recognise the very significant benefits that have flowed from EU membership. We hold EU passports and we intend to retain them. What arrangements will he make to accommodate us, the people like me and the 70% of my constituents who voted to remain in the EU and intend to retain the benefits? Will he, while he is at it, perhaps tell us how he intends Northern Ireland to have its voice heard at Joint Ministerial Committee meetings and in the negotiations generally over the next three months?”

David Davis “Since the beginning of this process—since I took up my post—we have put the preservation of the stability and the interests of Northern Ireland pretty much at the top of the tree of the negotiations, particularly on issues such as maintaining an open bodavid-davis-mprder and preserving the economic basis of Northern Ireland, which is very dependent on trade with the Republic of Ireland. On the JMC, I do not know if it has gone yet but yesterday I approved a letter to the Northern Ireland Executive—although the next Government is now subject to an election, most Ministers are still in place—asking that during the interim period they send representatives, whether ministerial or otherwise, so that we are always across the interests of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman must take it as read that I am absolutely committed to maintaining the stability, peace and prosperity we have got used to in the last several years.”

 

ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT RHI, PUBLIC INQUIRY AND THE ASSEMBLY ELECTION

On the 17 January 2017, I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire about the RHI scandal, the need for a public enquiry, restoring public confidence in the political settlement and what will happen after an election in Northern Ireland.

Alasdair McDonnell MP “Will the Secretary of State share with us more of his thoughts on what he expects to happen after an election in Northern Ireland? Does he accept that theAlasdairNIQJune112014 problems will remain? Without his calling a public inquiry on the RHI or, if he cannot find a way to do that, his making it clear that he fully supports a public inquiry, public confidence in our political settlement will sink even lower, making restoration of the Executive even more difficult. That is what people have been telling me on the streets during the past few days and the past week. They said that they need clarity, as we are having an election in a fog”.

James Brokenshire “Clearly, RHI scheme issues have been very much at the heart of what has led to the election that I have now called. It is right that we get answers on that, because it is crucial to james-brokenshire-mpre-establishing trust and confidence, seeing accountability and giving answers to the public about what has taken place. As I have said, it is right for that to come from Northern Ireland, as much as is possible, as this was a devolved issue and something that related to decisions within Northern Ireland. But I stand ready to work with people and consider options on a cross-community basis where support is commanded across the community. This is about how we get those answers and inject confidence back into the whole process”.

PROPOSED REMOVAL OF RATES CAP IN NORTHERN IRELAND – PUBLIC MEETING

On Monday 16 January 2017, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP held a Public Meeting in the Wellington Park Hotel to hear the views of constituents on the proposed removal of the rates cap announced by Finance Minister, Máirtín O’Muilleoir MLA.

On the panel was Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP, Cllr Declan Boyle (Botanic) and Ray Farley from the Fair Rates Campaign.

Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP explained that he organised the meeting because Cllr Declan Boyle and himself had been inundated with calls, emails and text messages from constituents concerned about the impact of removing the rates cap.

After a brief introduction from all the panellists, Alasdair opened the meeting to the floor as the main focus was to hear the views/concerns of local constituents.

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A constituent addressing the public meeting about the removal of the rates cap.

 

A wide range of concerns were raised from the floor as we heard from single persons, pensioners and parents with young families.

There was a consensus that a more equitable approach should be taken by Finance Minister, Máirtín O’Muilleoir MLA.

It was also stressed that the Rating System needs to be properly updated but should reflect best practices in other jurisdictions.

With the uncertainty at Stormont and the forthcoming Assembly Election this proposal may be shelved but we cannot be sure it won’t come back in 6 months time.

This is why I am urging you to respond to the Consultation Paper of the Rates Rethink.

You can print/download the consultation paper by clicking on the link https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/consultations/rates-rethink

Queries and consultation responses should be sent to: ratingpolicy.cfg@finance-ni.gov.uk

Written responses to: Rating Policy Division, FinTru House, 1 Cromac Avenue, Gasworks Business Park, Belfast, BT7 2JA.

The deadline for submission of consultation responses is 16 February 2017 at 17:00.

McDONNELL MOURNS LOSS OF DEAR FRIEND-TK WHITAKER

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Mary McAleese, TK Whitaker and Dr. Alasdair McDonnell

MP for South Belfast Dr Alasdair McDonnell has said he is deeply saddened at the passing of one of Ireland’s greatest economic and political minds-TK Whitaker. 

Speaking following his death yesterday Dr McDonnell said:

“TK Whitaker has been a seminal figure in Irish life for the past century. He played an absolutely pivotal role in improving economic standards of living across the Island of Ireland. We are all deeply saddened at the passing of someone who has helped shape modern day Ireland as we know it.

In the North we should be particularly grateful for the interest TK Whitaker showed in our troubled past and for his help in moving us along the road to peace and greater prosperity. TK Whittaker wrote a policy document in 1971 called ‘A Possible Solution’ which effectively became the very basis of the Good Friday Agreement almost 30 years later-for that we are eternally in his debt.

TK Whitaker has received many plaudits and awards over the years which were richly deserved. I was delighted that the SDLP arranged a special tribute lunch in Dublin for him in October 2014 which was supported by hundreds of key friends and supporters.

Only last month TK Whitaker reached his 100th Birthday-a milestone celebration for a man who devoted his life to improving the outlook and circumstances of every citizen right across the Island of Ireland. We are much poorer today for his passing-but take heart and inspiration from his incredibly rich legacy of work.”

PROPOSED REMOVAL OF RATES CAP IN NORTHERN IRELAND BY MINISTER MÁIRTIN O’MUILLEOIR

DO YOU WANT YOUR HOUSEHOLSD RATES BILL TO INCREASE?

This will happen under the proposals put forward by South Belfast MLA and Finance Minister Máirtín O’Muilleoir.

His plan, which he describes as the “biggest shake up in rating policy in a generation” includes a removal of the existing rates cap.

The current rating system caps the rateable value of household properties at £400,000, but the Minister wants to do away with this cap. This means that any homes with a value over £400,000 will now be subject to rates levied on any potential value over £400,000.

If you feel you could be affected by the proposed changes, please join us at 7pm on Monday 16 January 2017 in the Wellington Park Hotel.

Please see below the leaflet I have been distributing throughout South Belfast.

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REPRESENTATIONS MADE TO GOVERNMENT ABOUT DEMOLITION OF BEDOIUM VILLAGE OF UMM AL-HIRAN IN SOUTHERN ISRAEL

In late November 2016, I was contacted by a large number of constituents concerned about the proposed demolition of the Bedoiun village of Umm al-Hiran in Southern Israel.

In response to the concerns raised with me I sent an urgent letter to the Foreign Secretary, Rt. Hon Boris Johnston MP (see below).

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Umm al-Hiran was established in 1956, after its residents were displaced by Israel from Khirbet Zabaleh.

Following a long legal battle, bulldozers were due to enter the village and demolish it.

In my letter I asked that the Government make urgent representations to the Israeli Government and encourage them to lift the threat of demolition.

I received a response (see below) from Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State responsible for relations with the Middle East.

As you can see from the letter the planned demolition of Umm al-Hiran was raised with the Israeli Ambassador on the 23 November 2016.

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Istanbul Convention: Private Members Bill – Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill

A Private Members Bill was brought before the House of Commons by Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP and called on the Government to commit to a timetable of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty which has been described as the “gold standard” of legislation for gender-based violence.

On Friday 16 December 2016, I attended the debate and with the other two SDLP MP’s voted for the Bill that would ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

Whilst I was unable to speak on the Bill, I was delighted to vote in favour of it and was glad to see the Bill successfully progress to the Committee Stage.

If the Bill is passed, the UK Government will be obliged to guarantee funding for shelters, rape crisis centres, helplines and education in schools on healthy relationships.

The UK was involved in the development of the legally binding pan-European treaty; however, despite signing the Istanbul Convention in June 2012, the Government has yet to ratify it, making it legally binding.

I can assure you that the SDLP MP’s will continue to support this Bill.

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Prior to the debate, I also raised a written Parliamentary Question on the time taken to ratify the Istanbul Convention with the Secretary of State for the Home (Home Secretary), see the question and reply below.

Question:

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment she has made of the effect of the time taken to ratify the Istanbul Convention on women who have experienced domestic, sexual, emotional and financial violence in the last four years. (56493) Tabled on: 07 December 2016

Answer:

The Coalition Government signed the Istanbul Convention in 2012 to show its strong commitment to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG), and this Government remains absolutely committed to ratifying it. Given that in most respects measures already in place to protect women and girls from violence comply with, or go further, than the Convention requires, time taken to ratify the Convention has not impacted on women who experience violence and abuse. Our cross-Government VAWG strategy sets out our ongoing commitment to tackling these crimes, and is underpinned by increased funding of £80 million. The Government has already taken extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) for female genital mutilation and forced marriage, but before the Convention is ratified we need to take ETJ over a range of other offences. We will seek to legislate when the approach to implementing ETJ is agreed and Parliamentary time allows.

 

THE COMMITTEE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT

Alasdair travels to Dublin every other week to sit on the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Over the past number of months the Committee have been hearing evidence on the implications of Brexit for the Island of Ireland.

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On Thursday 15 December the Committee heard how border regions would be adversely effected by uncertainty over border control and other issues. Witnesses included Peter Conway, Waarenpoint Harbour, Michael Blayney, Autoline, Conor Patterson WIN and Newry Chamber.