Minister of State Sherlock addresses St Patricks Day reception in Houses of Parliament
Secretary of State Villiers, distinguished parliamentarians, patrons of CHAMP, Ambassador and friends:
Today, in the run-up to St Patrick’s Week, I am delighted to be here at the Houses of Parliament with good friends of Ireland.
This is my first time to attend a CHAMP event at Westminster but I am aware that this has been a longstanding tradition and that the occasion always allows friends of Ireland get together and review the highlights of another year gone by. I would like to thank our CHAMP colleagues, and in particular James Winston, for once again, bringing us together, and to Tourism Ireland for their generous sponsorship
The past year was a momentous one. We commemorated the thousands of British and Irish soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting side by side in the World War 1 including at events here in London, in Enniskillen, in Belfast, Dublin and in Flanders. Indeed Irish men who were members of these Houses lost their lives in that war and that fact was commemorated here in the autumn in the presence of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Last April, a further milestone in British-Irish relations was reached when the President of Ireland made the first state visit by an Irish Head of State to Britain during which he had the special honour of addressing the members of these Houses.
The State Visit allowed us to celebrate our unique and special friendship, both at a formal level between the institutions of the states but also at the more personal level. President Higgins recognised and celebrated the ties that bring together the Irish and British people, most particularly through the hundreds of thousands of Irish who have made their homes and built their lives in Britain and who have contributed immeasurably to both countries.
In recent years we have truly moved into a golden era of friendship between neighbours. Political and economic ties have blossomed in recent times. During this visit I am leading a trade mission focused on Irish companies working in the water sector in London which I believe will further contribute to the substantial flows of trade across the Irish Sea and confer huge benefit on both our economies.
Without doubt, our shared membership of the European Union over the past forty years and our close partnership on the Northern Ireland peace process, including the Good Friday Agreement, have transformed political relations between these islands and on the island of Ireland itself.
As Minister with responsibility for North South co-operation, I particularly enjoyed reviewing our relations with members of the British Irish Parliamentary Association at the 50th plenary session in Dublin last month.
While developments yesterday in regard to the Welfare Bill in Northern Ireland are deeply disappointing, the progress made in Northern Ireland over the past year has demonstrated that we have come a long, long distance. Let us remember that the Stormont House Agreement covers a broad range of political, economic and social issues. It includes a commitment on new sectoral priorities for North/South cooperation and further development of the North West through the North West Gateway Initiative and, very significantly, the Agreement establishes a new comprehensive framework for dealing with the legacy of the Past.
While we still have some way to go in delivering on the promise of lasting peace, reconciliation and prosperity, the Stormont House Agreement has renewed our collective efforts and offers a clear path forward. A solution to the current difficulties on welfare reform can only be found through patient and mutually respectful dialogue.
Let me assure you that the Irish Government remains committed to playing its part in ensuring the full implementation of the Agreement.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the work of both Theresa Villiers for her dedication as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office, Dr Andrew Murrison.
Looking around the room, I recognise that many of you are heading into elections and I am very happy that you were able to join us today just as your work starts to intensify. I wish you every success in May and look forward to renewing acquaintances in the months thereafter.
I know that we can continue to rely on the support of our friends in the British and Irish parliaments as we continue our work to support the process of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
I would like to conclude by thanking you again for inviting me to join you for this great occasion celebrating the friendship between our two countries. I am genuinely delighted to be here.
And of course, I hope that we in Ireland can continue to celebrate on other great occasions, such as when we meet on the rugby pitch! But for me to continue talking about Irish sporting success among English friends, well I suppose it's just not cricket!
10 March 2015