Belfast Telegraph

London Notebook: We haven't gone away for Westminster, you know

By Tony Grew

As London languished in a heatwave last week, MPs packed their bags for a six-week break from Westminster. Before they departed, there were three pieces of Northern Ireland business to attend to.

The Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, came to the Commons on Tuesday to make a statement on the riots over the Twelfth. She didn't mince her words.

"It is hard to think of anything less British and less patriotic than wrapping yourself in a Union flag and going out to attack the people who are there to maintain the rule of law and protect the whole community," she said.

"The Orange Order needs to reflect carefully on its role in encouraging mass protests in a highly volatile situation, without the careful planning, stewarding and engagement with the police so important for keeping people safe when big crowds gather together."

Labour shadow Vernon Coaker condemned "disgraceful attacks on the police" and "the very deliberate attempt to murder officers by throwing blast-bombs at them".

There was criticism, too. Former Secretary of State Peter Hain said of Mrs Villiers: "There is a feeling in Northern Ireland, fairly or unfairly, that she is not rolling up her sleeves enough and getting people around the table."

The role of the Parades Commission, the bravery of the PSNI and the well-being of Nigel Dodds dominated exchanges.

Earlier that day, Naomi Long led a short debate on the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights. Mrs Villiers responded and said it is "virtually impossible" to adopt it via Westminster legislation "without extensive cross-party support" from the Assembly parties.

The DUP's Jim Shannon said that, given that the unionist parties and the Catholic Church were united in their opposition, a consensus looked unlikely.

Jeffrey Donaldson introduced a Bill to change the legal definitions of "victims and survivors" – another legacy of the Belfast Agreement.

In a speech full of sorrow and anger, he told MPs: "It is a travesty that, in Northern Ireland, those who went out with murder in their hearts to destroy innocent life are regarded as victims for the purposes of legislation and equated with those innocent people who were cut down in cold blood on our streets."

He sought to amend the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the legal document of the agreement.

His Bill has no chance of becoming law, but he had made his point.

MPs departed for the summer recess with these three stark reminders of how much work there is to do in Northern Ireland and of how painful the legacy of the Troubles remains for many.

Belfast Telegraph


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