Belfast Telegraph

House unites in mournful tribute to late minister Paul Goggins

By Tony Grew

The Commons met yesterday in a state of shock. The death of Paul Goggins, who served as a Northern Ireland minister under Tony Blair, was genuinely mourned on all sides.

At Prime Minister's Questions, his party leader, Ed Miliband, said it was "a mark of the man that he gained the respect, trust and affection" of people across Northern Ireland. David Cameron paid tribute to Goggins' "quiet, but essential role" in the devolution of policing.

Nigel Dodds remembered him as "a fine, decent and honourable man" and "a great friend to Northern Ireland and all of its people".

After PMQs, Theresa Villiers made a statement on the Haass talks. She was upbeat. While it was "of course disappointing" that no agreement had been reached, the talks had created "a basis for continuing discussions".

"I hope we haven't reached a stalemate," she said. "I think there is still the opportunity here for the political parties to grasp. They can do that by getting back around the table."

She also made clear that Dr Haass won't be coming back and shared an anecdote about his experiences of the negotiation process.

"At one stage, Dr Haass told me rather wearily that he had not appreciated that politicians in Northern Ireland were quite so nocturnal. There were certainly a lot of all-night sittings, so the stamina of all those taking part is to be much appreciated."

Often, when an MP dies, fine words are said in the chamber and then promptly forgotten. That was not the case yesterday.

Every one of Northern Ireland's MPs who sits in the Commons paid their own tribute to Paul Goggins.

Ian Paisley and Jim Shannon talked about how Goggins had been their friend, how he had welcomed and encouraged them when they first arrived at Westminster.

Lady Hermon said the news of his sudden death was "profoundly and deeply shocking" and called him "an exceptional minister."

For Naomi Long, he was a true gentleman. "This House is much poorer for his passing," she said.

There was some politics among the well-deserved tributes. Lady Hermon wanted assurances that the Government would not impose the Haass proposals.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Ivan Lewis implied that Ms Villiers hadn't been engaged enough with the process.

DUP MPs said the talks about dealing with the past had focused too much on what the state did and not enough on the activities of terrorists.

Sammy Wilson said no deal was better than an agreement that would exacerbate the situation.

Mark Durkan spoke in more positive terms. He told MPs the talks were "a worthy, worthwhile and workable advance" that the parties could build on.

No doubt, Goggins would have agreed that talks are better than no talks; that negotiation is preferable to discord.

Yesterday, the Commons paid tribute to his common sense and his common decency. It would be a fitting tribute if Northern Ireland's politicians recalled his example as they strive to create the shared future he so passionately advocated.

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