Bradley ‘hopes’ for fresh Stormont talks in early summer

A fresh talks process aimed at resurrecting Stormont is set to be convened in the early summer, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

Karen Bradley said she wanted to restart negotiations in the window following the local council elections in May and before the height of loyal order parading season in July.

Mrs Bradley also indicated a willingness to potentially examine whether a further reduction in Assembly member pay was justified, in addition to the two-stage 27.5% cut already imposed as a result of the region’s political impasse.

Giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Conservative MP said she would not initiate another round of talks between the region’s politicians if she knew they were likely to fail.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved powersharing government for over two years, with a number of efforts to reconcile the two largest parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – ending in failure.

Mrs Bradley was questioned on the timetable for fresh talks by DUP MP Jim Shannon as she gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. He pointed out that the potential tensions related to parades in July would make it more difficult to find political consensus.

Mrs Bradley replied: “There are sensitive times of the year in Northern Ireland where it makes it more difficult to find the right conditions to put the parties together but I believe there is time – there is time following the end of the local elections and before we get into anything during the summer – and I would hope that we can get a short focused set of talks at that point.”

Earlier, Mrs Bradley told members: “We try and try and continue to try and find a way to get the parties to find that accommodation and do the right thing by the people who elected them but I am not going to start a talks process that is going to fail, knowing that it would fail, because that would be wrong, it would be deceitful to the people of Northern Ireland and they deserve better than that.

“So I am waiting to find the point at which I believe the conditions are right, the will is there and the parties are prepared to have that talks process.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley attends the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (PA)

During her appearance before MPs, which lasted in excess of two hours, Mrs Bradley was challenged by Lady Sylvia Hermon to look again at the issue of MLA pay, expressing anger that in excess of £12 million has been paid out in the two years since the Assembly last sat.

Last year, Mrs Bradley implemented the recommendations of a Government-commissioned report on MLAs’ salaries. The report, which was penned by former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney, recommended reducing the average £49,500 annual salary by more than £13,000.

Lady Sylvia asked Mrs Bradley if it was time to ask Mr Reaney to look at the issue afresh, given the ever increasing multi-million pound bill.

“What thought has been given to asking Trevor Reaney to come back in and just say to him, after this lapse in time, is the taxpayer getting value for money? Has any thought been given to that?” she asked.

Mrs Bradley replied: “The focus has been on restoring the executive and in that case people would not be questioning the pay of MLAs because they would be sitting in a fully functioning assembly and there would be ministers in the executive delivering decisions.

“But I will take your point and consider whether it would be appropriate to ask Mr Reaney to do further work.”

Stormont crashed in January 2017 when the last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded amid a row over a botched green energy scheme.

That dispute later widened to take in issues such as the Irish language, LGBT rights and the legacy of the Troubles.

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