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Renewing Trident debate splits vote at Stormont

Published 24/11/2015

The Royal Navy's Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard
The Royal Navy's Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard

The divisive nature of the debate over the renewal of the UK's Trident nuclear defensive system was illustrated in stark fashion at Stormont when a vote on the issue was tied.

Forty four Assembly members supported Sinn Fein's motion questioning the multibillion-pound expenditure, while 44 members opposed it. The draw meant the motion fell.

Responding to the result, Assembly speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said: "That sounds like mutual deterrence, does it not?"

The motion would not have had any practical policy impact if it has passed, as defence remains a reserved matter at Westminster.

The debate at Stormont came a day after Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson suggested Trident's base could be moved to Northern Ireland if opposition to its continued presence in Scotland proved insurmountable.

Addressing MLAs in Parliament Buildings, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy insisted it was important to have the debate, stressing the need to make the positions of the devolved institutions clear. The Scottish Parliament recently held a similar debate on Trident, with a majority of members opposing renewal.

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Mr Murphy said: "Of course, the British Government are entitled to have their own defence policy and follow their own defence strategies, as supported or proposed in the British House of Commons.

"However, such spending plans have a direct impact across Britain and, indeed, here in Ireland where people will be affected by the subsequent lack of money available to departments and the systems of public spending here."

Mr Murphy added: "The Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly speaking with one voice on an issue like this strengthens the hand of those whom we ask to speak to the British Government about the impact of their austerity policies and spending plans on the people whom we represent."

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Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt criticised Sinn Fein for tabling the debate. He contrasted the move with Sinn Fein's support last week for transferring responsibility for the devolved issue of welfare reform back to Westminster.

"Now, to complete the exercise of turning the world on its head, they want to debate a matter that is not, never has been and never will be devolved: defence," he said.

Mr Nesbitt added: "We believe, along with the majority of our forward-thinking and informed citizens, that we must support investment in our future and security. While we sincerely hope that the world will be a much more peaceful place over the lifetime of this Trident replacement programme, we as a party do not believe that we can take the unjustifiable risk of unilateral disarmament."

Alliance disappointed by motion failure

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has said it is disappointing an Assembly motion was defeated.

Mr Dickson said: "Alliance submitted an amendment to this motion, which unfortunately was not accepted, stating we should instead invest in our conventional defence forces. Sadly, we live in a world where nuclear weapons exist. However, with threats remaining, it would be foolhardy to call for the unilateral disarmament of the UK.

"But a full renewal of Trident would be a costly vanity project. A less costly option should be considered with the firm realisation it is 2015 and not 1965. We shouldn’t be renewing in full a gold-plated relic of the Cold War while our conventional forces and Foreign and Commonwealth Office functions are done on the cheap.

"The threats facing the world these days is not necessarily from established sovereign states. The UK needs to build the capability to respond to this threat – a full renewal of Trident would contribute nothing towards this aim."

SDLP: Trident is no defence in a modern age

SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna has spoken in favour of a motion calling on the Government to cancel the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Ms Hanna said: "Trident, we're told, is the UK's insurance policy in an 'uncertain' world. A relic of Cold War geo-politics, the £167billion it will cost to renew could be considerably better spent on problems we are certain about.

"There are clearly major global threats to the UK's security these are from non-state terrorism. Nuclear arsenals were no deterrent to those responsible for terror in London, New York or Paris.  As we know from our own experience, those who believe their ideology allows them to bomb and shoot without mandate subscribe to stubborn fundamentalism that has little regard for civilian lives.

"On-going events in Brussels illustrate that in the context of terrorism, defence is intelligence led and followed up with boots on the street. In the longer term, successful and ethical foreign policy will focus on ending the poverty and misery that allow fundamentalism to take hold, rather than spending tens of millions on an out-dated military status symbol.

"The SDLP opposes, and has always opposed, the renewal of Trident, both here and at Westminster where that decision will be made and where our opposition will be counted. There is an irony that those proposing this motion are seeking to surrender welfare powers while trying to devolve UK defence policy in the same week."

UUP: Trident debate highlights the topsy turvy world of Sinn Fein

UUP Danny Kinahan MP has questioned why Sinn Fein brought to the Assembly

Danny Kinahan MP said: "Welcome to the topsy turvy world of Sinn Fein.  Last week they were handing powers back to Westminster, this week they are wanting to debate powers that Westminster holds.  But neither on Welfare Reform nor Trident will they actually be in the House of Commons to make their vote count.

"The renewal of Trident is not a devolved matter, as it relates to national security, so it seems questionable that time is being taken up in the Northern Ireland Assembly debating the matter on the same day it is being debated in Parliament.  Perhaps this is a co-ordinated approach by Sinn Fein and the Scottish Nationalists?

"Ulster Unionist MPs are in favour of renewing Trident, not least due to increasing international uncertainty.  As we see the resurgence of Russia alongside the increasing nuclear capabilities of countries such as North Korea, it is clear that renewal is not just desirable, but essential."

Green Party: Trident offer completely unacceptable

Green Party Councillor for Louth Mark Dearey has called on DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson to withdraw remarks made in the House of Commons offering the loughs and ports of Northern Ireland as potential homes to the Trident fleet of nuclear submarines currently based at Faslane in Scotland.

Councillor Dearey pointed to recent remarks from SNP leader in Westminster Angus Robertson MP on the “chaotic, shambolic safety culture on these aged subs... where broken or faulty equipment with no spares leads to slapdash patch-up jobs.... shows how utterly stretched (the Navy) is.”

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He said: "Given that his fellow MPs in the SNP who have direct experience of the Trident presence are deeply worried, it would serve Mr. Donaldson well to reflect before making offers without any public discussion or consultation in Northern Ireland or in the Assembly .

"As a Councillor who represents the coastal community on Carlingford Lough, I would also like to hear Mr Donaldson clarify if it is one of the loughs he has in mind. It is the height of arrogance to leave that question hanging out there. The DUP are formally committed to nuclear deterrence and to NATO targets for defence spending, and that’s fair enough, but this kind of solo run is designed to anger opponents and court favour with the Tory Government at the expense of North South relations. It needs to stop now.

"I am attending the Nuclear Free Local Authorities AGM in Manchester next Thursday and I will be raising Mr Donaldson's reckless offer with council colleagues and MPs from around the UK and seeking a resolution that Trident relocation only be done on the basis that it is being welcomed by host communities."

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