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Statement by the Secretary of State (Mo Mowlam) on the Northern Ireland Referendum, 1 June 1998

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Statement by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Marjorie Mowlam, to the House of Commons, on the Northern Ireland Referendum, 1 June 1998

"With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the outcome of the referendum held in Northern Ireland on 22nd May.

It was a very positive result.

81 % of people in Northern Ireland voted.

71 % of them supported the Agreement reached on Good Friday.

There is no doubt it was an emphatic endorsement of the Agreement from all sections of the community - unionists and nationalists, loyalists and republicans.

Now they want to see the Agreement as a whole - every part of it - work.

In their own referendum, the people of the Irish Republic voted by 94% to endorse the changes to the Irish Constitution required to implement the Agreement.

By these referendums, the people of Ireland, North and South, have voted overwhelmingly to say yes to the principle of consent; yes to using only peaceful means to resolve political disputes; yes to fairness and equality; and yes to building new relationships based on agreement not coercion.

The people have spoken. Those who seek to frustrate that - whether by violence or other means - fly in the face of democracy.

Our job now - both as the Government and in this Parliament - is to act as the people wish.

Let me set out for the House the steps that are now being taken.

Last Wednesday, I signed an Order bringing into force all the remaining provisions of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act.

The elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly will take place on 25 June, with the nominations closing at 4.00 pm this Wednesday 3 June.

It would not be right for the Government during the election campaign to seek to influence the peoples' choice, directly or indirectly.

But I hope that on June 25th those who voted in the referendum will finish the job by voting in the Assembly elections as well.

In the meantime, we will work to implement the Agreement.

Both the British and the Irish Governments will bring into force schemes under the 1996 Northern Ireland (Decommissioning) Act soon.

I am grateful for the efforts of my predecessor, the Noble Lord Mayhew, in establishing that legislation and its amnesty provisions.

There will then be no practical barrier to a start to decommissioning.

We look to all parties to honour the commitment they made to use any influence they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years.

I shall also present to the House shortly a Bill to implement the provisions of the Agreement relating to prisoners. The Government is committed to seek to enact the appropriate legislation to give effect to new arrangements by the end of June.

The Bill, which I know the House will wish to examine carefully, will include the safeguards in the Agreement and to which my Right Honourable Friend, the Prime Minister drew attention in his speech in Belfast on 14 May.

The Agreement is to be implemented in all its parts. Not cherry picked.

As the Prime Minister said, we need to be sure that the both terms and the spirit of the Agreement are being met.

The Prime Minister set out a range of factors on which it would be possible to make an overall judgement so that we can be sure that all parties are committed exclusively to peace and democracy and that violence is genuinely being given up for good.

There are a range of factors to take into account, as the Prime Minister said:

  • "first and foremost, a clear and unequivocal commitment that there is an end to violence for good, on the part of republicans and loyalists alike, and that the so-called war is finished, done with, gone; that, as the Agreement says, non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means are the only means used;

  • that, again as the Agreement expressly states, the cease-fires are indeed complete and unequivocal; an end to bombings, killings and beatings, claimed or unclaimed; an end to targeting and procurement of weapons; progressive abandonment and dismantling of paramilitary structures actively directing and promoting violence;

  • full co-operation with the Independent Commission on decommissioning, to implement the provisions of the Agreement; and

  • no other organisations being deliberately used as proxies for violence."

As the Prime Minister again made clear "we are not setting new preconditions or barriers".

But we will be giving legislative expression to these factors in both the Bill relating to prisoners and the Bill to implement the remainder of the Agreement which we shall be bringing forward later this session.

Madam Speaker,

Our aim is to transfer powers to the Assembly, and to establish the North/South Ministerial Council, agreed implementation bodies, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference at the same time.

We are aiming for early 1999.

In the meantime, following the elections, the Assembly will meet first in shadow form in July.

In the shadow period of the Assembly, members will:

  • elect a presiding officer;
  • consider Standing Orders;
  • elect a first Minister and Deputy First Minister;
  • examine Northern Ireland departmental structures and arrangements;
  • and allocate other ministerial posts.

In the period after the Assembly elections, there will also be meetings of the British-Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council in shadow form.

In the shadow North/South Ministerial Council, representatives from Northern Ireland and the Irish Government will undertake a work programme, in consultation with the Government; with a view to identifying and agreeing by 31 October this year areas for North/South co-operation and implementation.

The Agreement also provides for a range of measures to promote rights and equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland which the Government will continue to implement.

I hope very shortly to announce the other members of the independent Commission to review policing in Northern Ireland who will serve alongside the chairman, Chris Patten. I also hope to announce soon the arrangements for the review of criminal justice, including the assessors who will provide an independent element in the review.

Madam Speaker, on 22 May the people voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Good Friday Agreement.

I commend that endorsement to the House as we undertake our clear duty to follow the will of the people and implement the Agreement in the weeks and months ahead."

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