POLITICS
21/02/2018 13:48 GMT | Updated 23/02/2018 17:01 GMT

Good Friday Agreement Critics Treated Like We Want To ‘Kill All Babies,’ Says Kate Hoey

'Getting rid of mandatory coalition is not tinkering, it is a fundamental change,' Hoey told.

Labour MP Kate Hoey has claimed critics of the Good Friday Agreement are attacked so savagely it is “as if you’re saying you want to kill all babies at birth”. 

The MP also insisted that her criticism of the 1998 act was “nothing to do with Brexit” during a tense Commons committee hearing. 

She and fellow hardline Brexiteers Owen Paterson and Daniel Hannan, were called “reckless and irresponsible” this week for suggesting the 1998 Beflast accord was failing. 

It comes after power-sharing talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein broke down last week, leaving Northern Ireland without a devolved government for a 13th month.   

Hoey told HuffPost UK it was time to take “a cold, rational look” at the GFA and mandatory coalition between unionist and nationalist parties, the central plank of the legislation, was “not sustainable”. 

The Vauxhall MP, who is a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, was speaking as the committee took evidence for its inquiry into democratic deficit in the region.

Hoey said her view was that the Belfast agreement should be “refreshed”.

She said: “If anyone says anything, and I’ve seen it from myself in the last day or two when I’ve said something about maybe the Belfast agreement could be refreshed and we could look at ways, it’s as if you’re, I don’t know, saying you want to kill all babies at birth or something, it really is.” 

Jamie Bryson
Jamie Bryson's appearance at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has been controversial 

But Hoey also clashed with Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP who said her comments struck at the heart of the GFA.  

Eastwood told the committee that no-one “should underestimate how serious” the political situation was for Northern Ireland. 

He said comments from the Brexiteers had “gone down extremely badly, because people remember what it was like before the GFA.” 

He said Brexit “has been a massive shake to people”, particularly in communities bordering Ireland.

“Getting rid of mandatory coalition is not tinkering, it is a fundamental change in what the GFA represents,” he told Hoey. 

He went on: “I noted your own comments and I noted other people’s comments and you seem to be focused on ensuring that we get out of the Customs Union and Single Market and that we have a Brexit no matter what.” 

Hoey hit back, saying: “I can assure you my comments were nothing to do with Brexit.”

Eastwood replied that he thought Brexiteers were working together. 

He said: “It seems fairly co-ordinated to me and I’m putting the warning out there that the impact that has on communities is one that is very, very destabilising. 

“I, for one, and the people of Northern Ireland and the people of Ireland as a whole will not have the Good Friday Agreement torn up just to facilitate a very awkward negotiation that is going on between the UK and the European Commission.” 

Jamie Bryson, a controversial loyalist activist, also gave evidence to the committee, but his appearance was controversial. 

Bryson, who writes for the website Unionist Voice, was a central figure in protests against limiting the time the Union Jack flag could be flown at Belfast City Hall. He was also convicted of carrying a concealed weapon in 2012 and refused to view the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), as terrorists in a tweet in 2013. 

Before taking his evidence, committee chairman Andrew Murrison asked Bryson to reiterate that he did not support paramilitary groups. 

PA Wire/PA Images
DUP leader Arlene Foster, with party colleagues Simon Hamilton and Edwin Poots (right), speaks with media at Carson Statue outside Stormont

Bryson told the committee that the GFA had not worked and he defended Hoey. 

He said: “If we get to the point where we can’t challenge a piece of legislation, if you can’t challenge a government policy because if you do you must be in favour of violence, that is, and look it has been my view for a long time that that is a moral blackmail at the heart of the Belfast agreement, that peace and the process are entwined.”

He added he thought Hoey, Paterson and Hannan’s had “quite reasonably” criticised the Belfast agreement and other were trying to “shut down debate”.

He said: “We have seen that over the last couple of days from those in favour of the 98 ‘act, shouting as loud as they can ‘you are risking peace’ by daring to challenge [the GFA].”

The committee hearing had been controversial before it began. 

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long refused to give evidence because Bryson had been invited. Long, a former member of the committee, wrote to Murrison to say Bryson’s appearance undermined the committee’s credibility and she would not  “add to the circus”. 

Independent North Down MP Lady Hermon, who sits on the committee, also refused to engage with Bryson.