Northern Ireland news

Michael Gove: New council will bring together devolved UK administrations'

Michael Gove

JUST imagine if, when Covid-19 first appeared on our shores, Northern Ireland decided not to share its latest clinical picture. England had hoarded tests. Wales had kept hold of all the AstraZeneca vaccines bottled at its plant in Wrexham, and Scotland’s scientists had refused to engage with their counterparts south of the border.

Faced with an adversary as dangerous as Covid-19, we would have struggled to send the virus into retreat had we all gone our separate ways. Our response, instead, was the opposite.

Confronted with an existential crisis, our scientists, our governments, our businesses united against a common enemy. Our expertise, our tenacity, our data made us more than the sum of our various parts.

In years to come we will remember the collective efforts that got us through this period. The volunteers who gave up their time on Christmas Day to administer tests at the 2nd Presbyterian Church in Rathfriland.

The pioneering researchers at Ulster University and Queen's University who have been playing their part in helping us track and defeat this virus. And most recently, the conversion of the Titanic Exhibition Centre into the largest vaccination hub in Northern Ireland.

As we do everything we can to move beyond Covid, I believe we have seize this opportunity to really deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and the whole United Kingdom.

Today, we are seizing that opportunity with both hands as we set out a brand-new set of arrangements for relations between and amongst the UK Government and the devolved governments.

It will see the creation of a new council chaired by the prime minister, bringing together the first ministers of Scotland, Wales, and the first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to find solutions to mutual problems and work more closely together on issues like the vaccine roll out, international trade and forging our long-term recovery from the pandemic.

These arrangements will be the foundation stone for a stronger, more prosperous Northern Ireland.

While the pandemic has reinforced on a daily basis just how intertwined and interconnected our destinies are, it has also illustrated that no government, no party, no leader has a monopoly on good ideas.

We have all learned from each other and we must apply these lessons to the forums that exist between our governments in the years ahead.

This new way of working champions mutual respect and genuine collaboration at the heart of a remarkable partnership.

My hope is that it will be the catalyst for a new era of devolution for the United Kingdom. One that adheres to a simple but important principle that has defined the UK Government’s devolution agenda for the last 10 years – that the solutions to local problems are best found and delivered locally.

That's why in England we have been devolving more powers and money away from Westminster to metro mayors. In Wales, we have agreed growth deals which cover every party of the country. In Scotland, we have conferred unprecedented powers to the government over welfare and taxation.

And here in Northern Ireland, we have agreed the largest funding settlement since devolution in 1998 backed by a £2 billion package of support for the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

The new arrangements we're setting out today will allow us to go even further driving the start of a new and exciting period of unprecedented growth and renewal. Our commitment to level up the United Kingdom is going to ensure that the ambition of people in Northern Ireland is married to opportunities – for jobs, for investment, for education and training. And with this strengthened, enduring partnership between the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, that's what we will deliver.

:: Michael Gove is Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

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