POLITICS: Queen’s Speech shows Conservatives are neglecting rural communities

By Hyacinth D’Arcy

The Queen’s Speech does nothing to help the millions of families and pensioners facing soaring bills and eye watering inflation, according to Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey.

He said: “The Conservatives have failed to deliver a cut to VAT that would have saved families an average of £600, failed to help pensioners and failed to help the most vulnerable in our society.

“The Conservatives are continuing to neglect rural communities. There was nothing in these plans to support farmers on the brink, to tackle soaring ambulance waiting times and GP shortages, or to stop the dumping of filthy sewage into our river and seas.

“It shows a Prime Minister refusing to listen to the clear message sent by voters at last week’s local elections who are fed up of being taken for granted by this Conservative Government.”

The government has dropped plans for a blanket amnesty for Irish Troubles-related offences in favour of legislation requiring individuals to apply for immunity from prosecution.

Only those who co-operate with a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery will receive a guarantee that they will not be prosecuted.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill sets out the British government’s legislative programme for the next year. An earlier proposal to block prosecutions and other legal actions for Troubles-related crimes was opposed by all parties in Northern Ireland and by the Irish Government.

The government stopped short of pledging to take action on the Northern Ireland protocol in the queen’s speech.

Prime minister Boris Johnson spoke to Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin in advance of the speech, in a call that is understood to have featured disagreements between the two men in relation to the protocol.

In a statement, Downing Street said Mr Johnson said the “balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was being undermined and the recent elections had further demonstrated that the Protocol was not sustainable in its current form.”

The queen’s speech, delivered on Tuesday morning by Prince Charles because Queen Elizabeth, pictured right,  was experiencing “episodic mobility problems”, said: “The continued success and integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom is of paramount importance to Her Majesty’s government, including the internal economic bonds between all of its parts. Her Majesty’s government will prioritise support for the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and its institutions, including through legislation to address the legacy of the past.”

The government said in a note accompanying the announcement: “The government has listened carefully to a range of views on the original proposal and it is clear that a model where immunity is only provided to individuals who co-operate with the new commission provides the best route to give victims and their families the answers they have sought for years as well as giving our veterans the certainty they deserve. This still leaves open the route of prosecution if individuals are not deemed to have earned their immunity.”

The new commission would enable individuals and family members to seek and receive information about Troubles-related deaths and serious injuries and will produce a historical record of what is known about every Troubles-related death.

The legislation also provides for the delivery of an oral history and the memorialisation of the Troubles, securing the long-term preservation of existing oral history collections, with new physical and digital resources “to maximise public engagement with different narratives and Troubles-related stories”.

The government will also deliver a package of measures on language and culture in Northern Ireland.

The Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill creates a new Office of Identity and Cultural Expression and two new commissioners – an Irish language commissioner and a commissioner “who will enhance and develop the language, arts and literature of the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition in Northern Ireland” – to be appointed by the first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.

The Bill will provide official recognition in law for the Irish language in Northern Ireland and repeal the Administration of Justice (Ireland) Act 1737 which forbids the use of any language other than English in court proceedings. Equivalent acts in England and Wales were repealed in 1863.

The language and identity measures were part of the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored the Executive in 2020, but the Democratic Unionist Party refused to introduce them in the Assembly.

“In view of the Executive’s inaction in bringing forward legislation to deliver on the identity and language commitments, the UK government has committed to do so,” the British government said.

In a statement following the call between Mr Johnson and Mr Martin, Downing Street said that Mr Johnson “made clear that the situation in respect of the Northern Ireland Protocol was now very serious”, suggesting that the “balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was being undermined and the recent elections had further demonstrated that the Protocol was not sustainable in its current form”.

It is understood that the call was difficult and tetchy at times.

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