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James Brokenshire: 'It's important that everyone grasps the opportunity to have their voice heard'

Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP

On Monday, I announced the Assembly election in Northern Ireland would be on Thursday, March 2.

Following the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last week, I engaged intensively with Northern Ireland's political parties to establish whether any basis existed to resolve the tensions in the Executive without triggering this election.

My clear intent was to avoid a poll, but, sadly, despite everyone's efforts, no resolution could be found, and my statutory duty was to call an election.

I am dissolving the Assembly from Thursday, meaning MLAs have until the end of Wednesday to conduct any urgent remaining business before an election campaign begins.

I welcome the fact that agreement has now been agreed on a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive and that this can now go ahead.

The RHI Scheme is a clearly devolved matter.

It is therefore appropriate that it should be subject to an independent investigation established from Northern Ireland.

This should help to inject much needed confidence in the ability of the institutions to deliver and help set the tone for the election to come.

I urge everybody to co-operate fully with it and hope that it is able quickly and effectively to establish the truth of what happened.

The election on March 2 is about the future of Northern Ireland and its political institutions. Not just the Assembly, but all of the arrangements that have been put in place to reflect relationships throughout these islands.

I am clear that political stability is best delivered through a power-sharing devolved government at Stormont.

That is what the Government wants to achieve, and what the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want.

Of course, the election will be fought robustly in the greatest traditions of our democracy.

However, it is vital the campaign is conducted respectfully and in ways that do not simply exacerbate tensions and division.

All candidates should remember that after the polls close they may well have to work closely with their opponents. The purpose of the election is to lead a partnership government committed to acting in the interests of all the people of NI.

It's incredibly important, too, that everyone in Northern Ireland registers to vote before the deadline of February 14, turns out on polling day and grasps the opportunity to take part and have their voice heard.

For my part, during the campaign I will be continuing to talk to the Northern Ireland political parties with the aim of securing the early return of shared government in Northern Ireland.

There is a relatively short period of time following the election - around three weeks - in which to form an Executive.

It is important that much of the groundwork is laid, so that we can return to shared government in Northern Ireland at the earliest possible opportunity.

I will also be keeping in close touch with the Irish government throughout this period, as appropriate.

Although an election has been called, Executive Ministers other than the First Minister and Deputy First Minister remain in place, and therefore we will invite the Executive to send representation to each of the Joint Ministerial Committee meetings on exiting the European Union, which will continue.

The Prime Minister has set out a very clear position on this Government's approach, and one of her key negotiating positions is the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, embracing the UK and Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom's immigration system, which is in all of our best interests.

And, to be clear, I am not contemplating any outcome other than the re-establishment of strong and stable devolved government.

Devolution remains this Government's strongly preferred option for Northern Ireland.

Nor would this Government be prepared to contemplate or countenance any form of Joint Authority with the Republic of Ireland.

In keeping with the principle of consent enshrined in the 1998 Belfast Agreement - there will be no change in Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom without the agreement of a majority of its population.

As the Prime Minister made clear this week, this Government believes in strengthening the bonds that unite our precious Union.

The priority must be politicians locally working together to strengthen the economies, to deal with the challenges and opportunities of EU Exit, and build a stronger, shared society based on respect for everyone.

For our part, the Government will continue to stand by our commitments under the Belfast Agreement and its successors.

We will do all that we can to safeguard political stability.

We will listen to and represent Northern Ireland's views on EU Exit, and we will work hard to secure progress on Legacy in a way that is fair, balanced and, crucially, proportionate.

I am clear I will always be a loud champion for the interests of Northern Ireland.

Over recent years, Northern Ireland has become a modern, dynamic and outward-looking part of the United Kingdom that's a great place to live, work, invest and do business.

This has taken leadership, courage and willingness to compromise on all sides.

Those hard-won gains must not and will not be lost, so we can continue building a brighter, more secure Northern Ireland that works for everyone.

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