Northern Irish Secretary of State Owen Paterson was in Washington, D.C. and New York City last month for a series of high-level meetings with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Paterson recently came under criticism from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams for what he called his refusal to hold a border poll, a commitment mandated by the Belfast Agreement. In response Paterson said he had had no requests to do so.
“There is no controversy at all,” Paterson told the Irish Voice. “It is absolutely written into the agreement, which was endorsed by all political parties and a massive majority in the north and south, that should the secretary of state choose to do so he can call a border poll. If there is a no vote another poll cannot be called for another seven years.
“I have not had a single telephone call, email, text, letter or meeting with anyone from any part of Northern Ireland or any political party asking me to call a border poll.”
Paterson said this provided him with clear evidence that a poll is not a matter of enormous importance at the moment. “What people want to talk about locally are jobs, the economy, the health service, education and building a shared future together. No one has raised a border poll with me since I became shadow secretary of state.
“If we have a huge deluge of emails I’ll have a border poll. I’m compelled to do it. I haven’t had one to date.”
Meanwhile, Paterson praised Clinton’s longstanding participation and interest in the north’s shared future (Clinton’s last visit to the Assembly occurred in 2009). He also invited her to make an official visit to review the progress made to date, he said.
“I have invited Secretary Clinton to Northern Ireland and it would be marvelous if she did. She’s an incredibly busy person and it may be a long shot,” Paterson said.
“She and her husband have played a key role in getting Northern Ireland to where it is today and this might be her last year as secretary of state. Getting her involved with our work on the economy and a shared future, which she completely understands and endorses, will help reduce the chance of recruitment to the paramilitaries. She was incredibly well briefed.
“As far as we’re concerned we’re beyond the peace process, we have the new institutions, and they’re working. What we have to do now is move beyond that and tackle the really long-term stuff – the economy and a shared future.”
Asked about the calls for an independent investigation into the Loughlinisland massacre and other such cases where surviving relatives believe that justice has yet to be served, Paterson demurred.
“There are a whole number of unresolved incidents which for those involved were absolutely shattering and which have probably distorted the lives of their friends and relations,” he said.
“We have inherited a number of enquires which were set in train by the previous government into a tiny number of those deaths, and we have been completely open and frank whenever they have come up.
“We have gone straight to Parliament and we have reported them. Up to 90% of the families who receive reports from the Historical Enquiries Team are satisfied with them. There is the Ombudsman report, which has also been widely received.
“We came in with the clear election commitment of no more costly and open-ended enquiries. We are wholly unconvinced that these legal enquiries are the quickest way to get to the truth.