Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May Northern Ireland visit: Politicians divided on message

By David Young

Reaction among Northern Ireland political parties to the Prime Minister's two-day visit focused on her hard-hitting Brexit message to Brussels - and the continued impasse blocking the re-establishment of a Stormont Assembly.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald adopted a combative tone, accusing the Prime Minister of visiting Northern Ireland "to pick a fight with Ireland and the European Union".

The Dublin TD said: "We were told that the British Minister came to Ireland to listen and to reassure. It is clear that she is not listening to community and business interests and seeks only to reassure the DUP.

"Her approach today has been provocative, to set aside her agreement with the EU from December and to walk away from a backstop.

"Theresa May claims to want to avoid a hard border in Ireland, while pursuing a policy that will deliver a hard border."

Ms McDonald said the Prime Minister had demonstrated a wilful misreading of the Good Friday Agreement, speaking of respecting consent while imposing Brexit in the north against the will of the majority.

But veteran Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said the Sinn Fein leader's remarks "beggared belief".

"Sinn Fein don't seriously think they can get away with criticising the Prime Minister for not visiting Northern Ireland and meeting border businesses and communities and simultaneously criticise Theresa May when she does just that?" he said.

Welcoming Mrs May's Waterfront Hall speech yesterday, DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA revealed both she and her party's Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds MP, had pressed Mrs May during her visit on Brexit-related issues and on the need for Ministerial-level decision-making at Stormont in the absence of the Assembly and Executive.

"We urged the Prime Minister to recognise that the absence of an Executive could not be allowed to impede progress.

"The Secretary of State should take decisions to ensure that schools, hospitals and roads are not impacted by Sinn Fein's boycott of the Assembly and Executive."

East Belfast UUP MLA Andy Allen criticised the Prime Minister for what he called "18 months of inaction" over the restoration of devolution to Northern Ireland.

"She needs to do more than offer fluffy words, and deliver," he said.

SDLP Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon, said the Prime Minister's Waterfront speech was "underwhelming" and "void of substance", and that it sounded as if it had been written for her by the DUP.

"The Prime Minister's rhetoric was a far cry from her recent actions; from acknowledging the 'principle of consent' despite failing to recognise the democratic majority in the north who voted to remain, to paying lip service to 'parity of esteem' whilst simultaneously being in cahoots with the DUP whose past actions, or inaction, have shown a blatant disregard for this concept," Ms Mallon commented.

The former Belfast Lord Mayor added: "The Prime Minister made it clear the British Government intends to continue to do nothing to see devolved government re-established here."

She accused Mrs May and her Government of abdicating responsibility as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

Dr Stephen Farry MLA, the Alliance Party spokesman on Brexit issues, said his party had called on the Prime Minister to "de-escalate" her tough rhetoric over Brexit, and cut the salaries of MLAs in the suspended Stormont Assembly in a bid to kick-start the stalled Stormont talks.

Belfast Telegraph

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