MLAs call for St Andrew's Agreement review completion

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MLAs voted to call on the Executive to work with the British and Irish Governments to complete a review of the St Andrew's Agreement, on 1 July 2013.

Proposing his party's motion, the SDLP's Conall McDevitt said completing an urgent review of the agreement would allow further progress on North South co-operation.

Mr McDevitt also asked the Assembly to reaffirm its commitment to "the ambition, values and institutions born out of the Belfast Agreement".

He said there was a "great duty to work in co-operation with the Irish government to build on areas of common interest to deepen our relationships".

The DUP's Stephen Moutray said his party's amendment showed a commitment to "working with whomever to try and benefit the people of Northern Ireland".

He said members of the SDLP were seeking to do some "political grandstanding with this motion".

Mr Moutray focused his comments on Northern Ireland being part of the UK but said sharing a land border with the Irish Republic was something "we must use to the benefit of our people" in areas such as improved workforce skills and productivity, better transport links and improved infrastructure.

His party colleague, Gregory Campbell, said the motion would have been more progressive if it looked at the future "rather than going back to something 15 years ago".

TUV leader Jim Allister also tabled an amendment to the motion, which he said "took issue with the squander in respect of the elaborate North South arrangements".

He said current Northern Ireland estimates showed that North South bodies and arrangements were costing £33m a year.

"Where is the £33m of added value in these institutions that wouldn't equally be there available at the end of a telephone or a conference call?" he asked.

Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane said she was supporting the motion and opposing the two amendments.

"We are a small island and it makes sense for us to plan our schools, our hospitals and our agri-food industry - it makes sense for us to plan that together," she said.

UUP North Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan said he would be opposing the motion and the amendments. He said it was good to be having the debate as good relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK "are fundamental in continuing the peace process here".

Trevor Lunn of the Alliance Party said he was supporting the "timely and relevant" motion. He explained he would be voting against Mr Allister's amendment due to the member's "ongoing hostility to anything that mentions North South" but said he did "take his point" over the money spent on such bodies.

He said he would not be be supporting the DUP amendment due to removal of any mention of the Belfast or St Andrew's Agreement.

John McCallister of NI21 said he too would only be supporting the SDLP motion.

The St Andrew's Agreement paved the way for the return of power-sharing to Stormont in May 2007, when Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness became Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers.

Both amendments were defeated and the motion was carried by 52 votes to 37.

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