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Owen Paterson rubbishes suggestions that he has plans to change the institutions at Stormont as "idiotic" and "complete nonsense"

Picture 10 At the end of last week I pointed to a piece in the Times suggesting that Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson was seeking to review the way the Northern Ireland Executive was formed with a view to ending forced coalitions between all the parties at Stormont.

I referred to such thoughts as being "in the long term" and was right to do so, since this is in no way something that the Conservative Party is currently looking at.

In fact, it turns out that the Times story was based on quotes from an interview which Mr Paterson gave to the BBC nearly two years one year ago and the paper had made no contact with him in reference to the report.

Mr Paterson has released the following statement setting the record straight:

"We have consistently made clear that we fully support the institutions established in Northern Ireland over the past decade.  We have stated many times that they are the only show in town.  There are no Conservative plans to change them.  We back an inclusive, power-sharing administration that respects the parties' political mandates. There is already a review mechanism in the St Andrews Agreement and a Working Group was established by last week's Hillsborough Agreement to look at the effectiveness of the Executive.

"We have said in the past that the Executive might at some stage evolve into a more normal system of government and opposition, as have others, but are adamant that any changes could only happen with the consent of the Northern Ireland parties.  We would never seek to impose anything.  As David Cameron has said, our overriding objective in Northern Ireland is to promote a peaceful, stable and prosperous society.  We will help to achieve that by offering its people access to mainstream, non-sectarian UK politics."

He also responded to questioning about the matter on the Northern Ireland edition of The Politics Show on Sunday, which you can view for the next few days here, 37 minutes and 40 seconds into the programme.

Crucially, Mr Paterson said that the Times story was "complete nonsense"; that he presently has no plans to change the institutions and that it would be "irresponsible" to suggest otherwise; and, indeed, that it would in his view be "idiotic" to consider changing the institutions now.  

In a further - rather unusual twist - the Times editorial of last Friday - which concluded that standing in Northern Ireland is a mistake for the Conservatives - is the subject of a letter in today's edition of the paper. The letter claims that last week's leader was historically misleading and was sent to the paper by one Felix Paterson - who happens to be the son of Owen Paterson.

Jonathan Isaby


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