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MPs praise British-Irish assembly

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Paul Murphy has led the praise for the role of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly

Paul Murphy has led the praise for the role of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly

Paul Murphy has led the praise for the role of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly

MPs from across the political divide have paid tribute to the contribution of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in support of peace and reconciliation.

Labour's Paul Murphy said BIPA had played an "enormous role" in the development of peace in Northern Ireland, in relations between Britain and Ireland and with regard to the devolved parliaments.

He said it was right to characterise its work between 1990 and 1998, prior to the Good Friday Agreement, as a "talking shop", but reminded MPs that before 1990 "there was no talking".

Mr Murphy said: "The whole purpose of this body was to bring together parliamentarians from London and from Dublin in order to try and break the ice with regard to the hugely tense relations that existed between Britain and Ireland at that time."

Speaking at the start of a Commons debate on the work of BIPA, he said it had gone from "strength to strength", adding: "I think BIPA has been a tremendous force for good in the last 22 years, it has certainly helped to improve the peace in Northern Ireland. It has brought together politicians from a wide and disparate background and more recently it has meant that it has become a forum for parliamentarians from the devolved administrations as well."

BIPA's co-chairman, Conservative Laurence Robertson, underlined the importance of trade between Britain and Ireland, saying the UK was Ireland's biggest destination of exports and Ireland was the fifth largest export market of the UK.

He said: "Even during times of economic difficulty recently, trade between the two countries actually rose in 2010-11 and such matters as trade were discussed at the plenary in May."

He added: "Some people of course do consider BIPA to be a talking shop. Well, what I would say is, given the history between the two countries, particularly over many years in the past, the terrible experiences we've had in Northern Ireland, I would suggest that talking is extremely important with regards to relations with Ireland and indeed relations within Northern Ireland.

"If we had not had people talking in the past we wouldn't have achieved the relative peace that we have in Northern Ireland. I say relative because there are still challenges that lie ahead."

Northern Ireland minister Hugo Swire said: "BIPA played an important role in developing a level of understanding between parliamentarians in the United Kingdom and our colleagues in Ireland in those years... it was set up initially to get people to talk, people were not talking and it's worth remembering that as we look at BIPA today."

PA