Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Parties outline priorities as four of Northern Ireland's new MPs take places on green benches

Leaving EU and tackling trolls among key concerns

The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson addresses the House with Claire Hanna and Colum Eastwood behind him and Stephen Farry to his left
The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson addresses the House with Claire Hanna and Colum Eastwood behind him and Stephen Farry to his left

By Our Political Staff

Northern Ireland's newest MPs got down to business in earnest yesterday as the new Parliamentary session got under way at Westminster.

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There were five new faces among the Northern Ireland MPs elected last week, but only four of them were in the House of Commons yesterday: the SDLP's Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna, Alliance's Stephen Farry and the DUP's Carla Lockhart.

The fifth new MP, Sinn Fein's John Finucane, did not take his place on the green benches, as per his party's abstentionist policy.

Writing in this newspaper today, Ms Lockhart said she would be making the fight against cyber-bullying a priority during her time in Parliament.

Like many female MPs, she has been subjected to misogynistic online trolling.

"Social media platforms need to come under far more intense scrutiny as to how they deal with online trolls and bullying," the Upper Bann MP said.

"Social media platforms are hugely profitable and have a social responsibility to their users and society as a whole to ensure they do good and not harm."

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Claire Hanna, who became the new MP for South Belfast after seizing the seat from the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly, told BBC Radio Ulster last night there was "definitely a first day of school vibe".

"There are about 150 new Members of Parliament - that's about a quarter of MPs," she told the Evening Extra programme. "We're still getting our heads around it. It's all very familiar from the TV, and there is a lot of pomp and ceremony. People have been very welcoming."

However, she also acknowledged: "It is daunting. The Conservatives have an enormous majority, but we are there to hold them to account. That's the way democracy works."

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson

North Down Alliance MP Stephen Farry said he would be working hard to mitigate the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland.

"It does now seem inevitable that the UK will see Brexit at the end of January based on the Boris Johnson deal. It is a much larger and harder version of Brexit than offered by the Theresa May Deal," the Alliance Brexit spokesman stressed.

"There is still a massive piece of work to be done to try and mitigate some of the worst aspects of that for Northern Ireland.

While the DUP, Alliance and SDLP MPs were in Parliament in London, North Belfast victor John Finucane instead joined his six fellow Sinn Fein MPs at Stormont, where fresh talks to restore devolution are under way, to meet the party's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill MLA.

"We had an exciting meeting where we were discussing what we will be doing to represent all our constituencies going forward in the future," Mr Finucane said in a video released by Sinn Fein yesterday.

"Wherever Irish interests are best served, we will be there representing you," he added.

As Parliament geared up for the new session, the DUP elected Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as its new Westminster leader.

He takes over the role from party veteran Nigel Dodds, who was dramatically ousted by Mr Finucane in last week's General Election.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, the party's Brexit spokesman, replaces Sir Jeffrey as DUP Chief Whip.

Paying tribute to Mr Dodds' 18 years as MP for North Belfast, Sir Jeffrey said: "As someone who commanded respect right across the House of Commons, he will be missed not just by DUP MPs. but across all parties."

Turning to the new Parliamentary session, he continued: "The initial focus of this Parliament will undoubtedly be Brexit and the Prime Minister's withdrawal deal.

"We will continue to seek change to that deal and work with the Government to deliver on their promise that Northern Ireland's economic and constitutional integrity will be protected as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union."

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