Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May set to visit Northern Ireland in weeks

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The Prime Minister has accepted an invitation from the DUP to visit Northern Ireland.

Theresa May confirmed the visit in the House of Commons yesterday.

"Obviously, there are a number of issues that we're considering in relation to Northern Ireland at the moment, both in the Brexit context but also in the issue of the devolved administration," she said.

She also expressed her hope that "the Assembly will get back up and running, and I can say... that I hope to be visiting Northern Ireland in the next few weeks".

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds welcomed the announcement and called on her to put pressure on Sinn Fein to agree to restore the Stormont Executive.

"The DUP invited the Prime Minister to visit Northern Ireland once again and I welcome the confirmation today that she will be taking up that invitation in the next few weeks," he said.

"It will be an opportunity to reinforce the message that Northern Ireland's place as part of the United Kingdom remains a core value of the PM. That is more important than ever given the decision by republicans to try to use Brexit to break up the UK."

Mr Dodds said he believed that Mrs May had been "fully engaged" on the issues affecting Northern Ireland by exiting the European Union, and what he claimed was the "block" placed on restoring devolution by Sinn Fein.

"Northern Ireland cannot continue in a vacuum. The Prime Minister's visit will be a chance to reinforce the message that decisions must be taken in relation to our hospitals, schools and infrastructure," he said.

"The imposition of red lines on the return of devolution is impacting upon everyone who lives here."

Mrs May last visited in March when she was taken on a tour of a farm in Bangor, Co Down, in recognition of the importance of agriculture to the local economy.

At the time she promised that Northern Ireland's voice would be heard in the Brexit negotiations and that she would not support a hard border.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has warned time is running out for Britain to seal a withdrawal agreement with the EU by October.

Leo Varadkar travels to Brussels today for a meeting of leaders at the European Council and said preparations for all outcomes were intensifying in Ireland.

The future of the border is one of the most vexed issues outstanding in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Varadkar said: "Time is running out for the withdrawal agreement to be concluded satisfactorily by the October European Council.

"I expect EU leaders to send a strong message to the UK that negotiations with the taskforce need to intensify.

"The lack of progress in the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement has been very disappointing. We still need to see detailed proposals from the UK on how it intends to deliver on the clear commitments it made in December and March."

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