By Russell Bruce
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness has said that the British state has “changed forever” and has called for a “serious conversation” on whether bodies like the Northern Ireland Office need exist at all.
Speaking at the London School of Economics on Monday evening Mr McGuinness referred to the Easter Rising as the beginning of the end of Empire and the Good Friday Agreement as part of changes that are reconfiguring the constitutional status of the British State.
Referring to events in Scotland and Wales, Mr McGuinness said:
“This belief has been strengthened and confirmed not just by what is happening in Ireland but also with events elsewhere, with the demand for Scottish independence and indeed greater Welsh autonomy. The constitutional fabric of the British state has been changed and changed forever.”
The Deputy First Minister also called into question the continuing value of the Northern Ireland Office and the continuation of the position of The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland quoting what Ian Paisley had said to him at their first meeting:
‘Martin, we can rule ourselves, we do not need these direct-rule ministers coming over here telling us what to do.’
“And I agree with him!” Mr. McGuinness told his audience at the LSE adding that the transfer of remaining powers “would be a massive vote of confidence in our political institutions and the Peace Process, as well as a massive saving to the Exchequer.
“The role of the British Secretary of State continues to diminish, and rightly so, and in my view, it is time for a serious conversation on whether there is a need for the NIO and the Secretary of State job to exist at all.
“And I say that, not to be provocative or to engage in rhetoric but to simply mark out a significant landmark on the historical road which has led us to we are now.
“The years preceding and following the First World War were a time of great political and constitutional upheaval for the British state. And I firmly believe that we are now living through a similar period of massive change – obviously not as dramatic as 100 years ago but significant change nonetheless”.
BBC Northern Ireland reporting on reaction to the speech quotes Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Vernon Coaker MP, who said there were “still important matters” relating to Northern Ireland that were decided in Westminster.
“Northern Ireland needs a strong voice to speak up for it at UK government level,” he said.
Martin McGuinness may have answered that point succinctly when he told his LSE audience:
“This British Government needs to embrace the inevitable constitutional changes rather than waste money, effort and time fighting progress.”