Belfast Telegraph

Narrow window of opportunity for Stormont talks before excuses can be made, says Karen Bradley

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Jonathan Bell and PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has insisted there is a "narrow window in which genuine progress" can be made to re-establish devolved powersharing.

She would not divulge detail of how the latest talks would work or what the consequences would be of failure, saying this stage was more of encouragement for the parties and getting the process restarted, "before we move into the next part of the year when excuses can be used for not having talks".

"There can be no more excuses," she added.

She said it was always the intention to resume talks after the local government elections and there was a "real willingness from the parties" for that.

The MP said the talks would involve the two governments and the five political parties and in line with the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement. She said there would be an intensive period of preparation before the start of the process between her team and the parties.

Mrs Bradley did say she was open to options on the talks format including the appointment of an independent chair to mediate.

"Northern Ireland needs its government back up and running for the people of Northern Ireland," she said.

The Conservative frontbencher told MPs in Westminster "we must act now" as she outlined her hopes for the forthcoming talks, which have been confirmed by the British and Irish governments following the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.

Lyra symbolised the new Northern Ireland and her tragic death cannot be in vain.

Giving a statement in the Commons, Mrs Bradley said: "No Government can impose an agreement from the outside.

"We need Northern Ireland's political leadership to do everything they can to ensure we emerge with an agreement to restore the executive and build a better future for the people of Northern Ireland.

"Both and the UK and Irish governments have been clear that we will do everything in our power to make these talks a success, but we cannot do it alone."

She described Ms McKee's funeral as an "incredibly emotional and touching event", adding that "all of us heard a clear message that day".

Mrs Bradley said: "No more violence, no more division and no more delay.

"Northern Ireland's political leaders must come together now and must work together to stand firm against those who oppose peace and the political process, and work to build a genuinely shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland.

"Lyra symbolised the new Northern Ireland and her tragic death cannot be in vain."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd said Labour was fully behind efforts to get the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running but said the Prime Minister has not been as engaged in the process as she needed to be.

He added: "Cynics to me in Northern Ireland say that Downing Street's main interest has been the 10 votes of the DUP members in this House, and that sadly prejudices the way that the Secretary of State's own efforts are seen and that has got to change, because the two governments have got to be seen as both independent and impartial."

Mrs Bradley did not address Mr Lloyd's concerns about the Prime Minister, but thanked him for his support of renewing dialogue between the parties in Northern Ireland.

She added: "I've always said that I wanted to restart talks, but I was realistic that it had to wait until after the local elections.

"I'm sad that it took such a tragedy to show the political leaders standing together but I am hopeful and optimistic that we can build on that and the time we have ahead of us after the local elections before we move into the next part of the year when excuses can be used for not having talks.

"We need to find no more excuses, the time has come for talks and we need them to start."

DUP MP Jim Shannon said "the time has passed for talking shops" and politicians must get back to Stormont to take decisions.

He added: "The Northern Ireland Assembly is the only mechanism for getting Northern Ireland back on its feet. No more deadlines, instead getting business done. And that can only be done by returning to Stormont those elected representatives who want to deliver what our people need: legislative change."

Mrs Bradley said she agreed the time has come for politicians to get back to Stormont and make the decisions that "people are crying out to be taken".

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