Johnson: Stormont Assembly must be restored as soon as possible

Boris Johnson has said devolution in Northern Ireland must be restored as soon as possible.

The Prime Minister said the region had been without its Assembly “for much, much too long”, ahead of his visit on Wednesday.

He is to meet each of the five main political parties involved with talks aimed at reviving Stormont.

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.

Ulster powersharing
Powersharing government at Stormont has been collapsed for more than two and a half years (Brian Lawless/PA)

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.

Mr Johnson said he is going to do “everything in my power” to help the parties reach agreement.

“The people of Northern Ireland have now been without an executive and assembly for two years and six months – put simply this is much, much too long,” he said.

“Northern Ireland’s citizens need and deserve the executive to get up and running again as soon as possible, so that locally accountable politicians can take decisions on the issues that really matter to local people.

“I’m pleased to meet each of Northern Ireland’s party leaders today to stress that I am going to do everything in my power to make the ongoing talks to restore devolution a success.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith welcomed Mr Johnson’s encouragement of the parties.

Julian Smith visits Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s new Secretary of State Julian Smith visited Londonderry last week (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It is of critical importance that new momentum is now introduced to the ongoing talks process, and that all of the parties work collectively to reach agreement. I’m pleased the Prime Minister has agreed to meet each party and help drive the process forward,” Mr Smith said.

“I want to ensure Northern Ireland continues to thrive and intend to work alongside the PM to build a prosperous, secure Northern Ireland for everyone.”

Earlier it emerged that Mr Johnson had clashed with his Irish counterpart over the Brexit backstop in their first phone call since the Tory MP became Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he will approach Brexit negotiations in “a spirit of friendship” but reiterated that any fresh deal must see the backstop abolished, Downing Street said.

Here’s the statement issued by @merrionstreet following my call with @Borisjohnsonpic.twitter.com/2WyjtTNmVg

— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) July 30, 2019

Mr Varadkar told him the emergency measure to prevent a hard border on the island was “necessary as a consequence” of UK decisions, the Irish Government said.

Mr Johnson’s visit on Wednesday is his first to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister.

It comes following visits to Scotland, Wales and cities across England earlier this week.

He previously announced that the Mid South West Growth Deal in Northern Ireland will receive a share of £300 million new funding, to help boost business and enhance opportunities for people in the region.

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