Belfast Telegraph

SF derides Brokenshire's comments on nationalist voters

James Brokenshire at the Conservatives' NI manifesto launch yesterday
James Brokenshire at the Conservatives' NI manifesto launch yesterday

By Noel McAdam and David Young

People who vote for republican and nationalist parties do not necessarily support a united Ireland, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has claimed.

The Northern Ireland Office chief turned election campaigner yesterday in a bid to boost Conservative candidates' prospects in the province.

But as the VIP guest at the Tories' election launch in south Belfast, he still turned his focus to the period after June 8, when talks to restore the Stormont Executive resume.

Mr Brokenshire called on all parties here to work intensively to support the re-establishment of the Executive after the election.

He launched the Conservatives' NI manifesto, which said it was deeply regrettable that following the longest unbroken run of devolved government since the 1960s, the Executive and Assembly were now not functioning.

This leaves Northern Ireland with no stable and inclusive devolved government, while other institutions such as the North-South bodies are also "unable to function effectively".

Nonetheless, Mr Brokenshire told the launch event that conditions for calling a border poll are a long way off being met.

He was asked whether a repeat of the last Assembly result in the general election - when unionists lost their overall majority in the Assembly - would alter the prospects for a poll, which Sinn Fein is demanding within the next five years.

"I remain satisfied on the basis of all reliable indicators of the continued support for the devolved administration, the principles and the structures and institutions that are underpinned within the Belfast Agreement (1998) and its successors, and I am very clear that the requirements for a border poll are not remotely satisfied," he said.

"Obviously we keep these issues under very close and careful review.

"But I think in terms of the way people vote, that people may vote for one party but that doesn't necessarily mean they want to see a change to the institutions; that they want to see a change to the foundations that underpin all of that stability that has been achieved from the Belfast Agreement and thereafter.

"As I see it, the support for those institutions, the support for Northern Ireland remaining a core part of the United Kingdom, remains very firmly there."

Sinn Fein dismissed Mr Brokenshire's comments as "nonsense" and "bizarre".

Elisha McCallion MLA said: "The Good Friday Agreement contains provision for a referendum on Irish unity and that cannot be wished away by James Brokenshire and his Tory colleagues. It will be up to the people of Ireland to decide their future, not the man from Old Bexley and Sidcup and his Tory party, who have no mandate in Ireland. His bizarre comments on Irish nationalist and republican voters beggar belief.

"The outgoing Tory government has pandered to the DUP and political unionism since coming to office in 2010.

"James Brokenshire's comments are simply more of the same nonsense."

The Conservative manifesto firmly ruled out joint authority between the UK and Republic should the talks following the election fail to form a new power-sharing Executive.

It appears to suggest that, in those circumstances, direct rule would be reintroduced.

Conservatives also said they believe the outworking of the withdrawal from the EU will mean a significant increase in the decision-making power of the Executive and Assembly.

But there would also have to be "common UK frameworks" in some areas, and the manifesto pledged to "work closely with an incoming Executive to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and reflects the needs of Northern Ireland".

On Brexit, Mr Brokenshire said in the manifesto the Conservatives would "work to maintain the Common Travel Area, which has served us so well for nearly a century, and to ensure as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland".

Despite securing fewer than 2,500 votes in March's Assembly race, the Conservative Party is fielding seven candidates next week.

But it has admitted that gaining a seat is unlikely.

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