Call for British-Irish Council to meet ‘urgently’ on NI violence

Dozens of police officers have been injured during recent rioting in Northern Ireland. Credit: PA

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh has called on the British-Irish Council to meet “urgently” following violent disorder in Northern Ireland.

“In the 23 years since the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, it is not an exaggeration to say that the peace process has never been as vulnerable as it is now,” Ms Haigh told the Commons on Wednesday.

“The Secretary of State bares a responsibility to help stabilise the situation, so will he ensure that the British-Irish Council is now urgently convened to give Northern Ireland representatives a voice in discussions around the protocol and huge decisions about their own future?”

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis replied: “Yes. I would suggest (Ms Haigh)... if she looks back a while ago actually, we announced that the British-Irish Council would meet on 11 June.”

He added that regular meetings “have never stopped”, with the last one happening in “November last year”.

However, Ms Haigh said the plans to next convene in June are not urgent enough.

“The Secretary of State will know that some very young children, born long after the Good Friday Agreement, have been involved in some of the recent disorder,” she added.

“Does he agree that wherever appropriate, working with the PSNI, restorative justice should be used to make sure those children aren’t criminalised and run the risk of falling into the toxic, coercive grip of paramilitaries?”

Responding, Mr Lewis said: “Yes, absolutely.”

He added: “There has been community groups, youth working groups working with young people - not just in the few weeks, but obviously consistently over the last year or so - (who) do amazing work to help people see a way through to a prosperous and exciting future.

“We should all be doing all we can to support that, promote that and encourage that so that people are not tempted into - whether it is from social media or bad advice in the heat of the moment in the streets as we saw a few weeks ago - into the type of the behaviour that gives them a criminal record and curtails their opportunities for the future.”

The Prime Minister has been actively involved, he has been in full communication all the way through this process.

NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Also speaking in the Commons, SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said an “active and engaged and interested” Prime Minister was needed to deal with the Northern Ireland peace process.

“Dissident republicans tried to murder a police officer and her young child in Co Derry this week,” he said.

“Can I take this opportunity as an Irish nationalist to send those dissident republicans a very clear message - your quarrel is not with the police, it is not with the British state, it is with the people of Ireland, and that is a battle that you will never, ever win.

“Given the Prime Minister’s very speedy response to an issue about football, as important as that is, compared to his response and the quickness of his response in terms of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland for almost 10 days, does the Secretary of State agree with me that we need an active and engaged and interested Prime Minister in terms of dealing with our peace process?”

Mr Lewis replied: “Yes, absolutely, and I am proud of the fact that we do. We have a Prime Minister who is very much engaged.”