Brandon Lewis calls for co-operation as Northern Ireland parties wait on content of Queen's Speech

080522 Brandon Lewis Northern Ireland SOT, ITV News
Brandon Lewis has been leading British government efforts to restore powersharing

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has urged political parties to focus on restoring the power-sharing institutions as Stormont's political leaders wait for Tuesday's Queen's Speech to see the UK Government's legislative plans for Northern Ireland.

Mr Lewis met on Monday with the leaders of the five main political parties: Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin; Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP; Naomi Long, Alliance; Doug Beattie, UUP; and Colum Eastwood, SDLP. 

His message to each was to work together to restore the Assembly and Executive as soon as possible, but some of the leaders had their own demands to make of the cabinet.

Tuesday is one of the biggest days in the UK's political calendar: the Queen's Speech.

This formal address to Parliament is when the Government sets out its legislative plans for the year ahead.

The DUP are calling for the Government to announce concrete plans to remedy its concerns on the NI protocol, and Sinn Féin are asking for movement on an Irish language act.

Brandon Lewis said in a statement that all the parties agreed on "the importance of maintaining political stability", however, the parties differing demands for the Queen's Speech suggests there are barriers remaining for such stability is achieved.

There are three areas of policy that parties anticipate hearing reference to when Prince Charles addresses Parliament.

Firstly, the DUP want to hear how the UK government intends to reform or remove the NI protocol.

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was very clear that he believed he had received an electoral mandate to pursue this goal.

Speaking to UTV Live, former DUP first minister Paul Givan said that the party expected the Government to make real strides to this end.

By contrast, Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald said that any use of Northern Ireland as part of the Government's "brinksmanship" over the Protocol was unacceptable.

UTV News understands that there are only very general references to the Protocol in the speech.

The second area the speech might address is provisions for an Irish language Act.

The debate over this Act was an issue preventing the functioning of the Assembly even before the NI Protocol.

After it became clear the Executive could not agree a way to legislate for such an act, the Government vowed to do so itself in line with the Stormont House Agreement.

However no such legislation has been introduced, and Sinn Féin said on Monday that it expects to hear plans for it in the speech on Tuesday.

Thirdly, there are the controversial plans over legacy prosecutions.

The Government has been mooting a so called 'Troubles amnesty' that would see immunity granted to those involved in Troubles era crimes.

This is in response to a backlash in British politics over the trials of ex-servicepeople for acts committed during the Northern Irish Troubles.

All five of the main Northern Irish political parties oppose the plan, albeit for differing reasons. The Government would therefore have to face pushback from NI if it seeks to implement these ideas.

UTV's Political Editor Tracey Magee said on Monday that the government may announce plans for immunity tied to a "truth-recovery" process, whereby those granted an amnesty must agree to provide information on the nature of their actions in the past.

Whatever is announced, the Government's plans could have a large impact on when and how a NI Executive is restored.

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