Belfast Telegraph

Secretary of State reiterates 'essential' need for Stormont Executive to deal with same-sex marriage and minority languages

Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge and Love Equality NI both made direct appeals to Mrs Bradley to commit to pass legislation at Westminster if direct rule was returned

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley has reiterated the "essential" need for a functioning Executive to deal with issues such as equal marriage and minority languages.

Mrs Bradley met with a number of groups on Thursday including Conradh na Gaeilge, the Ulster-Scots Agency and Love Equality NI - the group spearheading the campaign to end the region's ban on same-sex marriage.

An impasse over Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish Language Act is at the heart of the powersharing crisis at Stormont, with the Democratic Unionists standing firm in their opposition to a stand-alone piece of legislation that does not incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.

The prohibition on gay marriage is another vexed issue on the table in the negotiations to restore the devolved institutions.

At the meetings Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge and Love Equality NI both made direct appeals to Mrs Bradley to commit to pass legislation at Westminster if direct rule was returned.

The Secretary of State declined such undertakings and stressed that the issues remained very much devolved.

Mrs Bradley sad: “It’s clear issues such as equal marriage and minority languages are important to many people across the community in Northern Ireland, so I welcomed the chance to listen and be informed by today’s meetings.

“The fact remains, the issues these groups lobby on are devolved. Therefore it is essential all parties use the opportunity provided by the current phase of talks to restore devolved government and allow any important decisions on these issues to be taken by locally-elected politicians.

"This is what the people of Northern Ireland voted for and this is what we are all working so hard to deliver."

On Wednesday Mrs Bradley apologised to a committee of MPs, claiming there appeared to be a "misunderstanding" that she was going to make a definitive statement on negotiations on February 7.

Mrs Bradley said she would be responding to scheduled Northern Ireland questions on that date, but cautioned that the delicate nature of negotiations might prevent her from revealing details on progress or otherwise.

When announcing the last-ditch round of talks to save power-sharing on January 18, Mrs Bradley had said she would update the House of Commons on February 7.

Some interpreted that as a key date in what had been billed as a short, intensive negotiation process.

Mrs Bradley's comments at Westminster suggested the process could continue beyond next week.

She said she hoped to give an update next week, depending on the outcome of the talks.

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