Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland party leaders must get back into government, says Secretary of State

Julian Smith
Julian Smith

By Richard Wheeler

Party leaders in Northern Ireland must "do the right thing for the people", Julian Smith said ahead of urgent talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

The Northern Ireland Secretary warned the public has seen the quality of public services "decline" and key decisions "kicked into the long grass" without a functioning Executive.

He added that if the Assembly cannot be restored, then the government will "pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity", while also highlighting legal requirements on the UK Parliament to extend same-sex marriage and abortion to Northern Ireland.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Smith told MPs: "The duty to legislate will come into effect if the executive is not back up and running before October 21 and my department will shortly begin an awareness campaign to ensure that women and citizens across Northern Ireland are clear as to how we plan to proceed to regulate for these new legal duties."

Mr Smith said the government's preference is such issues are taken forward by a restored Assembly and Executive.

He added: "But to those who now lobby me and others in government to somehow change the law, I say the only way for these laws to change and to be shaped in the best interests of Northern Ireland is for Northern Ireland party leaders to form an Executive and to get back into government.

"To that end, following frustratingly slow pace over the summer due to a range of factors, I will this week work urgently with the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish government to do everything I can to break the logjam and to get Stormont up and running because the time for that is now.

"The party leaders need to show leadership and do the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland."

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said Mr Smith had "fallen into the trap" of "spreading the blame" across all party leaders for the lack of an Executive, adding: "The only party leader who is opposing and stopping the formation of the Executive in Northern Ireland is the leader of Sinn Fein."

Mr Smith also said there was a commitment to introduce an historical institutional abuse bill in Westminster "by the end of the year" in the absence of an Executive.

He said he was "confident" the legislation could be brought forward in the "coming weeks".

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