Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh to Labour Party annual conference in Brighton today.
Thank you, conference. Thank you to everyone who has participated in today’s debate. And a special thank you to my fabulous colleague and shadow Northern Ireland minister Alex Davies-Jones. This is a hugely important debate at an incredibly important time. 18 months ago, I was so proud to be asked to serve our party, and prouder still to be the first Labour woman in this post since the incomparable Mo Mowlam. 23 years ago, conference got to its feet and applauded Mo. An ovation in recognition of her tenacious spirit, and her dedication to the cause of peace.
More than that, the thunderous applause was the sound of a party totally driven to see justice and equality delivered across these islands. It is what drove the Good Friday Agreement. It is what united this whole movement behind it. Together our party helped to end a conflict that had raged for generations. And the peace has sustained because it was forged in the values that our movement holds dear – equality, human rights and social justice. Today we need to defend it.
Because as that precious agreement reaches its quarter century, it is more fragile than we have ever known it. This reckless Tory government has not only neglected the peace process, they have actively undermined it. And I don’t say this lightly. Northern Ireland should not be a partisan issue. In the Labour Party we pay tribute to the work done by John Major who helped lay the ground for the Good Friday Agreement.
But Boris Johnson has not, will not and frankly cannot live up to that standard. This is a Prime Minister who has repeatedly placed his own political self-interest over the interests of Northern Ireland. Who promised that he would never place barriers down the Irish sea, and then did it. Who signed an international treaty and then broke it. Who negotiated every single word in the NI protocol and now blames everyone else for the consequences.
As Prime Minister he bears responsibility but not only is he refusing to show leadership, his addiction to dishonesty is costing communities in Northern Ireland dear. Self-interest over national interest, every single time. Conference, it makes me so angry because as well as the hurt and the anger I have seen in communities, I have seen something else too. There is a new generation coming of age in Northern Ireland. They grew up after peace. They want the promise of a shared society that the great John Hume imagined.
They want to build the integration that was promised. And they want the same things as the kids in Sheffield I represent– a good education, a good job, action on climate change. For them, peace has changed their outlook, diminished their fear of difference, built into their world view new hopes for themselves and their communities. That was the precious prize.
Conference, we must never stand by while this prize, the greatest political achievement of a generation, is gambled away by a careless and dangerous Tory Prime Minister. Because while we have achieved so much there is still so much more to do and it will take courage to continue the progress that this generation demands.
I’ve seen that courage in people like Sara Canning, whose partner Lyra McKee was killed by those who want to drag Northern Ireland back to the past. That terrible tragedy that would have broken so many of us did not silence Sara. She has fought a brave campaign for justice backed by people across Northern Ireland. And sent the clear message that there is no going back. Not now, not ever. Imagine looking Sara in the eye, and knowing that politics and politicians are the barrier to realising the world she and her generation deserve and are fighting for.
That’s why we must all match the courage Sara shows in her fight for justice and progress. Because we cannot say the promise of peace has been realised when too many young people are still growing up in profound deprivation, when neighbours are separated behind 100 peace walls in Belfast alone and when a third of Northern Irish students leave every year, never to return. And when the Good Friday Agreement is still being used as a bargaining chip.
A true and lasting peace is about more than an absence of violence. A true and lasting peace is delivering what the agreement promised – a bill of rights, integrated education, shared housing. A true and lasting peace is the collective hope of a shared future where reconciliation and social justice walk hand in hand.
In this party, we know our task isn’t just to prevent worse worlds but to imagine better ones. That’s the journey we started 23 years ago. As Mo said then “it’s the real lives of people that need changing”. And today, my mission, Keir’s mission, our collective mission across this movement is simple: to finish the job and to finally deliver on the promise of peace.