Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

David Cameron's ‘cold shoulder’ to Northern Ireland provokes leaders’ fury

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have bitterly complained about being shown the door by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Time was when Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were regular visitors at 10 Downing Street — but they haven’t crossed that threshold for many months.

And there is growing irritation that Stormont’s top two are repeatedly being fobbed off and told to see Secretary of State Owen Paterson instead.

Mr McGuinness yesterday said it was “totally unacceptable” that it had now been eight months since he and Mr Robinson last met the Prime Minister.

“This is a totally unacceptable situation, and it is something that certainly never happened under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.”

But the clear message from the Northern Ireland Office last night was “get used to it”.

An NIO spokesman said: “Given that devolution is now established in the province it is appropriate that the First and Deputy First Ministers meet the Secretary of State as their first point of contact.

“The PM has met them in the past and will do so again.”

Mr McGuinness’s attack came as Labour leader Ed Miliband paid his first visit to Stormont since taking over from Gordon Brown — and pledged an open door policy for the Northern Ireland ministers.

As he met party leaders in the Assembly, Mr Miliband said he believed the Government should “look sympathetically” at some of the issues that had been raised in relation to Northern Ireland.

Mr Robinson appeared to take a swipe at the current Government as he welcomed Mr Miliband's offer.

“Would that it was the approach we had in other places as well,” |he said.

The Stormont leaders claim cuts to infrastructure spending in the region's block grant broke funding commitments struck by the UK and Irish governments at St Andrews five years ago.

The rift between Stormont and central Government has been growing for some time but, for the most part, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have remained tightlipped.

DUP leader Mr Robinson, who last October wanted a meeting with Mr Cameron to press the “special case” for Northern Ireland ahead of the comprehensive spending round, admitted that he and Mr McGuinness “cannot invite ourselves”.

Former Labour Secretary of State Shaun Woodward pressed the issue in the Commons, but was told by Mr Paterson that Mr Cameron would meet with the Stormont seniors on his next trip to the province, which has now been delayed for several months.

“He intends to go back to Northern Ireland, and at that time he will have the opportunity to discuss matters with them,” Mr Paterson said.

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