Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Foster meets Secretary of State Bradley and calls for direct rule - claims SF pulled out of meeting over McElduff tweet criticism

Sinn Fein dismiss claim as 'nonsense'

DUP leader Arlene Foster called for direct rule ministers to be appointed after meeting the new Northern Ireland Secretary of State.

The MLA also claimed Sinn Fein pulled out of a meeting with the Tory minister over the criticism the party received for its sanctions placed on Barry McElduff after his Kingsmill video tweet.

Wednesday marked Karen Bradley's first visit to Northern Ireland in either a professional or personal capacity.

The former culture secretary replaced James Brokenshire after he resigned from the Government on health grounds.

Arlene Foster said meeting the newly appointed Secretary of State of Northern Ireland was "incredibly useful". She said Northern Ireland's government departments could not continue on without ministers. She welcomed the ministers commitment to restoring devolution.

"We need to have key policy decisions taken. Civil servants do a vital job administering decisions but government departments need to have a Minister in place to set policy direction. Everyone in Northern Ireland is suffering because of the current vacuum. This cannot continue."

"We have made it clear to the Secretary of State that if Sinn Fein continues to block the restoration of devolution then a return to Direct Rule is an unfortunate, but inevitable consequence and the Government must move to appoint ministers."

She added: "The clock is ticking in relation to the government of Northern Ireland, we haven't had a government now for over a year.

"I think she's (Mrs Bradley) heard directly today from people that they want to see government back here and if it's not going to be a devolved administration then it will have to be some sort of an administration direct from Westminster.

"Of course we don't want that - we want devolution, but we can't continue without a government here in Northern Ireland. So time is short and the clock is ticking."

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill had been due to meet Mrs Bradley in person on Wednesday. Plans were however changed and a phone call was instead arranged between the two politicians, with the meeting put back to next week.

Mrs Foster claimed the reschedule was linked to criticism the republican party has received since one of its MPs posed with a Kingsmill branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre last Friday.

Abstentionist West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff, who apologised and insisted his social media video was not a reference to the 10 sectarian murders at Kingsmill, has been suspended by Sinn Fein for three months on full pay.

Asked for her reaction to the postponement of the meeting between Mrs Bradley and Mrs O'Neill, the DUP leader said: "It's another indication that all is not well in Sinn Fein and they are a party in disarray at present."

A Sinn Fein spokesman said the meeting had not gone ahead due to clashing diary commitments.

He branded Mrs Foster's claim as "nonsense".

"Arlene Foster might be better focusing on the denial of rights that people enjoy everywhere else on these islands," he added.

Mrs Bradley has the unenviable task of trying to forge consensus between the DUP and Sinn Fein and avert a return to Westminster direct rule.

During her first visit to Northern Ireland she met students at Belfast’s Metropolitan College in the city’s regenerated docklands area as part of her first official engagement.

Her schedule on Wednesday also included face-to-face meetings with the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Speaking on her visit Mrs Bradley said that her priority was restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland.

She said: "Of course I have a very important job to do, my immediate challenge and key objective is to make sure Northern Ireland has a devolved government in place to address issues that effect everybody's lives including, health, education and the economy."

She continued: "I have spoken to all the main party leaders and whilst I fully accept there will be many challenges in the coming weeks which all parties will need to rise to. I will do all that I can to ensure we find a way to restore devolution to Northern Ireland.

"I want to find a way through this because the absolute priority is to restore devolved government as soon as possible.

"I'm here to learn, I'm here to find out, I'm here to look at what needs to be done. I know there are challenges but we need to deliver devolved government to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and that's what I'm determined to do."

In a video message as she arrived in Belfast she said: "I'm really, really thrilled to be here today in my first visit in this incredible role that I'm honoured to have been given as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

"I'm under no illusion of the challenges that we face and there is a big job ahead of me but I'm looking forward to getting down to business, getting stuck in and making sure we try to solve those challenges and address them so we can really deliver what I think everybody wants.

"Which is strong devolved government for the whole community in Northern Ireland and in the interest of the whole United Kingdom."

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