NI Secretary pledges to ‘push as hard as I can’ to restore powersharing
Northern Ireland’s new Secretary of State has pledged to “push as hard as I possibly can” to make progress in the talks to revive Stormont.
Julian Smith said he had hoped for a holiday after “working seven days a week, 24 hours a day” as the Government’s chief whip.
But instead he said he is committing himself to political talks seeking to restore powersharing government in the region.
The Stormont Assembly has been collapsed for two-and-a-half years following a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Numerous attempts to agree its return have been unsuccessful.
Mr Smith met Northern Ireland’s parties at Stormont House in Belfast on Friday morning before spending the afternoon in Londonderry.
He said there had been “good discussions”, but added he has asked to meet the parties again on Monday and Tuesday “to ensure we move forward at pace” with the talks to restore the collapsed devolved government.
“We have got to get these talks up and running, it has been going on far too long,” he said.
“I worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day as Government chief whip, I had hoped for a holiday but I am going to be making sure that I push as hard as I possibly can to get these talks going because there are a whole range of issues that need resolving.
“The biggest issue is to make sure that public services and basic important decisions are made for every citizen in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Smith also batted away claims around how close he is to the DUP after attending its party conference two years ago.
He pledged to “work equally with every party”.
“Under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, my responsibility as Secretary of State is to represent and work for every citizen in Northern Ireland and to work equally with every party and I’m very, very clear on both the spirit of that agreement and law,” he said.
The latest talks process at Stormont, which was established in the wake of the dissident republican murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry in April, has so far shown no sign of delivering a breakthrough to re-establish devolution.
The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.
The fallout over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.