Restoring devolved government 'the absolute priority', says new Northern Ireland Secretary

The new Northern Ireland Secretary has stated her determination to overcome the challenges at the heart of the region's powersharing crisis and restore devolved government at Stormont.

On her first visit to Belfast, Karen Bradley said she wanted to work collaboratively with local parties to forge an agreement that will see a coalition executive resurrected.

Her appointment to the role, following James Brokenshire's surprise resignation on health grounds, came as Northern Ireland marked a year since the Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein-led administration imploded in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

The rift between the two main parties has widened in the intervening 12 months to take in long-standing cultural and legacy disputes.

The prospects of a deal to restore powersharing still appear bleak, with the spectre of a return to Westminster direct rule looming large.

Mrs Bradley met students at Belfast's Metropolitan College in the city's regenerated docklands area on her first official engagement in the region.

Her schedule today also included face-to-face meetings with the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

"I want to find a way through this because the absolute priority is to restore devolved government as soon as possible," she said, standing on the Titanic Quarter's fog-shrouded waterfront.

Asked if she intended to adopt a new approach to the faltering negotiation process, Mrs Bradley stressed she was still in learning mode.

"I am here to learn, I am here to find out, I am here to meet all the leaders, I'm here to look at what needs to be done.

"I know there are challenges but I am determined we will find a way through those challenges.

"We need to deliver devolved government to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and that's what I am determined to do."

The Conservative MP said she was also conscious of the need to deliver a Brexit that worked for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Bradley said she understood the importance of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and ensuring a safe future.

"My aim is to work collaboratively to find solutions to those issues that are acceptable to everyone," she said.

The former culture secretary said the Irish government would have an "important role" to play in efforts to save devolution.

She is due to meet Ireland's deputy premier and minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney on Friday.

 

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