Fairness in tough times

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Writing exclusively for agendaNi, Ed Miliband warns that peace cannot be taken for granted and pledges that Labour will stand up for Northern Ireland’s interests by challenging Coalition Government cuts.

When I visited Northern Ireland, one of the things that struck me most was that everywhere I went people said: “It is so much better than it was.”  There is much to be proud of and much to look forward to, and we in the Labour Party are particularly proud of the role we played in helping to build the peace process. But we cannot take peace or progress for granted.

Politicians in Westminster need to remain focused on their responsibility to support the devolved administration in Northern Ireland, and the implementation of all the agreements made between the governments and the political parties over the last decade. We should never be complacent about the progress made, because we all know that the job is not yet done, and we must remain steadfast in our opposition to the grim determination of a handful of irreconcilable groups who have no support, no ideas and no future, but who nonetheless remain a threat to stability and progress.

Whilst policing and security are always at the forefront of our minds, there are other important and pressing issues in Northern Ireland. On the economy, jobs, tax and welfare reform, it is the same sorry story for hundreds of thousands in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the UK, with the Conservative-led Government cutting too far and too fast, leading to a flatlining economy and really difficult times for many families.

All of us know the potential consequences of joblessness and lack of hope and aspiration, particularly amongst our young people. No community should be forgotten or left behind. We need to ensure fairness in tough times. Here in Westminster, we still take decisions which directly affect the people of Northern Ireland and the ability of the devolved administration to act. My colleague Vernon Coaker MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has been working with Northern Ireland MPs and others to wake Westminster up to this fact and ensure that no-one takes the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland for granted.

We will, wherever possible, support the Government in a continuation of a bi-partisan approach to Northern Ireland. However when we think they are wrong and not serving the interests of Northern Ireland, we will not be afraid to say so. Vernon Coaker has pressed and will continue to urge the Conservative Secretary of State to join him in standing up for Northern Ireland and challenging the Government’s agenda of cuts that go too far, too fast.

We in the Labour Party will speak up for the peace and progress – as the party who in government helped to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and all that flowed from it – and we will stand up for fairness in tough times. We will hold the Government to the promises that were made to help deliver a real peace dividend for Northern Ireland.

So whilst there has indeed been much progress made, there is a danger that here in Westminster the political focus has prematurely moved on. We need to continue working on Northern Ireland – in a way that is appropriate to the devolved settlement – and while applauding the continuing progress, we still need to understand the threat which remains and recognise the special circumstances that exist.

The people of Northern Ireland and their representatives are still wrestling with the consequences of the past as they move forward, and this is no time for us to fail to give them a priority that they both demand and deserve. I and the Labour Party will try our very best to meet the challenges of supporting the peace process, standing up for Northern Ireland and helping to build the shared future and prosperity its people deserve.

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