Belfast Telegraph

Parties 'frustrated' at Bradley's approach to restoring devolution

By Suzanne Breen

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been accused of adopting a lacklustre approach to restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, Alliance and the SDLP were all critical of the government's efforts after meeting Ms Bradley for talks yesterday.

The DUP did not meet her as Arlene Foster was at an event in Gibraltar. The party is expected to hold discussions with the Secretary of State in London tomorrow.

Speaking after yesterday's talks, UUP leader Robin Swann said: "We were underwhelmed by what we heard at our meeting with the Secretary of State. There was no bite, no detail and no direction ... I found it completely frustrating."

Mr Swann said there had been an expectation that legislation Ms Bradley will bring forward would progress important issues not dealt with since devolution collapsed.

"However, from our conversation today it seems that things like the suicide prevention strategy, implementation of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry recommendations, and equality of pay for public sector workers in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK will not be addressed," he said.

Mr Swann said the prospects of talks to restore devolution appeared "very slim" and warned that Northern Ireland "cannot just be left to wither on the vine".

He suggested Ms Bradley convene a group with local party representatives to "give guidance or provide political cover" to make decisions on those issues.

"We left the Secretary of State in no doubt that she needs to take her role as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland seriously and she can no longer continue to abdicate responsibility," he added.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill accused Ms Bradley of failing to produce proposals to break the political deadlock.

"I think the British government lack ambition, they lack ambition in order to restore this Executive," Mrs O'Neill said.

"What Karen Bradley has done today is more of the same of what she's done over the course of the last 18, 19 months - she's pandered, she's talked up the fact that they have a priority to restore the Executive. However, she has failed to bring forward any proposals in which to be able to do so."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "We have been disappointed by the lack of energy that there has been in the talks, or lack of talks since February, and it is now incumbent on the governments to re-energise the process over the course of the autumn.

"There is a real essential requirement to appoint a mediator to work between the parties; that in itself is not going to crack it but it will make a world of difference in terms of the dynamics and avoid people wriggling away from their responsibilities."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said it was time the government "stood up and ended the drift".

She said neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein were providing any impetus to get devolution back up and running.

"That's why we have consistently said as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement there is a responsibility on both governments to live up to that duty," she said.

"If they remove the obstacles, they remove the excuses and we can get back around the table and doing the job we were elected to do."

Ms Bradley said the right way forward was stable, fully functioning, inclusive devolved government.

"Last week, I set out the government's clear plan to bring that about and today was the first step in that process," she said.

"I will continue engagement over the next days and weeks ahead of legislation to support the ongoing delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

"Devolved government is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and this is what I'm determined to deliver."

Belfast Telegraph

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