Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland has a very bright future ahead, Boris Johnson tells Stormont

Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Boris Johnson denied that his visit to Belfast yesterday was a publicity stunt.

Speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, the Prime Minister said he could see "the hand of the future beckoning us all forward".

The Prime Minister arrived at Stormont Castle alongside Secretary of State Julian Smith as Storm Brendan began to batter Belfast.

After meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill for talks, Mr Johnson was asked by this newspaper if his visit was a photo opportunity and a publicity stunt.

Mr Johnson described the question as a "little bit harsh". He said he was very happy to be in Belfast as it was important for the UK Government to show how strongly it supports the responsibilities being taken by local politicians in signing the deal to restore the power-sharing Executive.

"It's also an opportunity for us to underscore how strongly we will support leaders here in Northern Ireland and how much work we will do to underpin the United Kingdom and to support our United Kingdom," he added.

The Government made a series of financial promises as part of efforts to get the New Decade, New Approach agreement over the line.

It was hoped the Prime Minister would announce the details of those commitments but Mr Johnson would not be drawn into revealing specific figures when pressed.

"It's about leadership, it's about getting the public the services they need, particularly in healthcare," he said.

"It hasn't been very easy over the last few years but they now have politicians who are making themselves accountable."

Describing yesterday as a good day for the country and for the people of Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson said he had positive discussions with Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill about their plans for the future.

He added that the willingness of the DUP and Sinn Fein to trust each other and set aside their differences was "absolutely commendable and was wonderful to see".

"Now is the chance for the Government, the Executive and the Assembly of Northern Ireland to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and to deliver on the priorities of the people, and that is, above all, improving healthcare, making sure we have fantastic schools and making sure our streets are safe," the PM said.

"I was able to tell the Executive a little bit about our priorities as a UK, as a United Kingdom government, investing record sums, as you know, in health, putting huge amounts into education and crime fighting as well. Of course there was a certain amount of, as you can imagine, a certain amount of conversation about funding and were we going to be supportive.

"Yes of course we're going to be supportive, but the point I want to make is that it's not just about money, it's about leadership and what's so great about today is, as I say, that Northern Ireland politicians have put aside their differences, stepped up to the plate and shown leadership and that is a fine thing and the right thing."

Mr Johnson finished by saying that the future of Northern Ireland will be a "very bright future indeed" but that will only come with goodwill, compromise and hard work on all sides".

He also touched on Tony Blair's famous 'hand of history' remark, which the then Labour PM made in the aftermath of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Mr Johnson said: "Never mind the hand of history on my shoulder, I see the hand of history. No, the hand of the future beckoning us all forward."

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