It is a great honour to make my first contribution in your Lordships’ House and to follow my Noble Friend Lord Lancaster in this important debate.
I wish to thank all noble Lords for their very warm welcome in recent days.
In particular I am very grateful to Black Rod, the Clerk of Parliaments, the doorkeepers who have been so helpful, kind and patient, as well as all the administrative staff and the ever cheerful catering and cleaning staff who look after us so well especially in the present circumstances.
I am grateful also to my two Supporters at my Introduction. Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley whom I’ve known since I first got involved in politics growing up in the beautiful County of Fermanagh, and Lord Browne of Belmont with whom I was elected to Belfast City Council in 1985, the first elected office for either of us.
Like him I have had the singular honour to serve as Lord Mayor of that great city and although a Londonderry man by birth Belfast has been my political home for many decades.
The territorial designation in the title I have taken, Duncairn, references the historic electoral area at the heart of the North Belfast constituency which I have had the honour to represent for some 35 years altogether, first in the City Council, then the Northern Ireland Assembly and for over 18 years in the other place.
As I return to Westminster much has changed given the current pandemic but Brexit negotiations still loom large.
May I reiterate my sincere message since the referendum…the Government has a solemn duty to deliver Brexit… and to do so in a way which safeguards the Union. That is its overriding responsibility above everything else.
And in our deliberations it is important to remember that the protection of the peace and political process in Northern Ireland is about recognising and defending unionist as well as nationalist concerns and interests. That’s something that at times seems to be missing in current debates.
My Lords, I hope to continue, in accordance with the traditions and conventions of Your Lordships House, to champion the Union, to work to strengthen this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and, as we approach the Centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021, to find ways to build on the progress we have made in recent years.
Whilst there are many challenges it is important to acknowledge the vital every day work of government in Northern Ireland which is helping to deliver a better future for all of our people.
Devolved government in Northern Ireland is not easy but it is vital and we must continue to work to move Northern Ireland forward.
But it is important that no one is left behind. Our many innocent victims deserve to see justice, proper compensation and an end to the glorification of terrorism which sadly still happens. And continued attempts to make terrorists the equivalent of our gallant security forces must always be resisted.
Time is too short today to outline the many domestic policy areas which I passionately believe need more attention but if I may mention two.
My own family experience drives my determination that everything possible is done to increase awareness and understanding of people with disabilities.
And my experience representing North Belfast has shown me how our vulnerable children and their families need support and intervention from an early age with education at the heart of growing communities.
My Lords, I believe our defence and security institutions must be properly resourced and supported to defend us in a dangerous and unpredictable world.
As a member for almost 10 years of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly I believe more than ever in the crucial importance of a strong United Kingdom at the heart of a strong trans-Atlantic alliance.
The Regulations before your Lordships this afternoon will ensure the smooth regulation of defence and security public contracts at the end of the Transition period.
They are another piece in the complex jigsaw of legislation preparing the way for life after Brexit and as such I am happy to give them my full support.”