Belfast Telegraph

EU exit and border on agenda for new Secretary of State Julian Smith in Derry

New Secretary of State Julian Smith arrives at the Guildhall in Londonderry yesterday
New Secretary of State Julian Smith arrives at the Guildhall in Londonderry yesterday
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

New Secretary of State Julian Smith was greeted by protesters as he visited Londonderry yesterday.

He was swept past protests by Bloody Sunday families and Irish language activists into the Guildhall where he was greeted by the deputy mayor of Derry and Strabane, Cara Hunter, and council chief executive John Kelpie.

A City Deal for Derry, Brexit, the border and the restoration of Stormont dominated the conversation and later when Mr Smith met business leaders.

The controversial prosecution of soldiers for Troubles-era incidents was also raised.

Julian Smith with Derry City and Strabane District Council deputy mayor Cara Hunter and CEO John Kelpie at the Guildhall
Julian Smith with Derry City and Strabane District Council deputy mayor Cara Hunter and CEO John Kelpie at the Guildhall

Gerry Duddy, whose brother Jackie was among those killed by Paratroopers on Bloody Sunday, took part in the Guildhall protest.

He said: "We have had bother with Secretary of States over the years and today we felt we had to allow our voices to be heard from the start.

"We are not happy with some of the changes the new Prime Minister and Secretary of State will be trying to make, like the statute of limitations which is our main concern.

"We will be watching the new Secretary of State and if he steps out of line then we will want a meeting to outline our point of view."

Mr Smith said the issue of prosecutions of ex-soldiers would be the subject of discussion in the weeks to come.

He said: "We are in the process of looking at that issue.

"There are some specific issues in Northern Ireland and I will be looking at that in the coming days and weeks.

"There has been a focus of quite intense debate on this in Westminster and I will be speaking to the Prime Minister about that."

Mr Smith paid a visit to the Siege Museum, which tells the story of the Apprentice Boys, before taking a walk of the city's historic walls.

Julian Smith with chairman of the Siege Museum Billy Moore on the city’s walls
Julian Smith with chairman of the Siege Museum Billy Moore on the city’s walls

Mr Smith insisted that he would be a Secretary of State for everyone.

He said: "My responsibility as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to represent and work for every citizen in Northern Ireland and to work equally with every party and I am very clear on the spirit of the Agreement.

"I have spent a large amount of time this morning meeting with Sinn Fein, I will be meeting with Sinn Fein for several hours on Monday and I will work to respect the Belfast Agreement and work with all parties and all citizens."

Mr Kelpie said it was encouraging to see Derry so high on the Secretary of State's agenda.

He said: "Our strongest message was that this is a unique place and it needs a unique proposition to address the challenges and deliver the opportunities posed by Brexit.

"The importance of our position in terms of Europe, Ireland and the UK was discussed and the strategic cross-border partnership working that is so vital to our progress. It was also stressed that a seamless border to facilitate trade and travel is absolutely crucial."

The Secretary of State said he was aware of the difficulties facing border towns.

Mr Smith said: "I am acutely aware of the specific and very particular issues that surround Brexit for this part of Northern Ireland and I have been made even more aware through the conversations I have had today.

"I think we need to find solutions particularly on the issue of the border and the Prime Minister was very clear that he wants to get a deal done.

"However we need to have structured conversations with the European Union.

"We have very clearly said as a Government we want to get a deal, and we need to make sure we are prepared for a no deal.

"I have met with the Chamber of Commerce and heard of employees coming across the border, cross-border trade and I am aware of those and my view is we will do everything we can and deliver a deal."

Mr Smith also stressed the importance of restoring the Assembly.

He added: "We have got to get these talks up and running again. It has been going on far too long.

"I worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day as Government Chief Whip.

"I am going to be making sure that I push as hard as I can to get these talks up and going because there is a whole range of issues to be resolved."

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