Penning’s Coastguard Visit Postponed

February 16th, 2011

Speaking from the House of Commons late last night, North Down’s MP, Lady Hermon, reflected on the sudden turn of events, which have caused the postponement of Shipping Minister Mike Penning MP’s and the Secretary of State’s visit to Bregenz House in Bangor, the home of Northern Ireland’s only remaining Coastguard Centre.  With resignation in her voice, she said:

“Most regrettably, my plans for the Bangor Coastguard staff to explain the unique features of their work in N. Ireland to Shipping Minister Mike Penning and Secretary of State Owen Paterson on Thursday have now been thwarted by unexpected circumstances, one tinged with considerable sadness.

Immediately, after visiting the Coastguard in Bangor, the Secretary of State and Mr Penning had planned to visit the Belfast Harbour Commission.  Tragically, however, the Belfast Deputy Harbour Master, Michael Evans, lost his life in the awful Cork air crash last week, and his funeral is expected to take place on Thursday.  In these very sad circumstances, I can well understand why Mike Penning and Owen Paterson felt it inappropriate to proceed with their scheduled visit to the Commission on Thursday.

In addition, Mr Penning’s office has advised me that the Tory Whips refused to allow him and the NI Secretary of State off the Whip on Thursday.  At present, the House of Commons is in the process of so-called ‘parliamentary ping pong’ with the House of Lords over a key piece of Government legislation to reduce the number of MPs and also to introduce Alternative Voting (AV) for Westminster elections. 

Since the House of Lords made significant amendments to this very important Bill over the last couple of weeks, the Coalition Government is now determined to reverse these this week, before Parliament’s half-term recess.  I suspect that it is a game of numbers in that the Government wants as many of its MPs as possible voting against the Lords’ amendments in order to persuade the unelected House that the will of the Commons should prevail. 

Both Government Ministers have, however, assured me that their visit to the N. Ireland Coastguard Centre in Bangor will take place at the earliest possible opportunity.  Let’s hope the Whips don’t intervene next time. 

Despite these changes, I’m very pleased the visit to Bregenz House by the First and Deputy First Ministers is still going ahead on Thursday as planned.”

Entry Filed under: Press Statements