Belfast Telegraph

Theresa Villiers sad to leave but insists Northern Ireland is stronger than ever

By Noel McAdam

Theresa Villiers said she was leaving Northern Ireland in "a more stable position than it had been for many years" as she quit as Secretary of State yesterday.

Mrs Villiers, a Cabinet member for almost four years, was offered another position - reportedly as a Junior Home Office Minister - but turned it down.

The former Secretary of State said the job "was not one I could take on" and added: "I regret to say I have left the Government."

The Chipping Barnet MP, who helped negotiate the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements, insisted Northern Ireland had a "special place" in her heart and admitted was said to leave.

Brexit-backer Mrs Villiers, the third longest-serving Northern Ireland Secretary, has been in the hot seat since 2012.

"I would like to thank everyone who has supported me during that time," she said.

"I am sad to bring to an end my work in Northern Ireland, but I believe that I leave the political situation there in a more stable position than it has been for many years, not least because I was able to help tackle the crisis which a year ago left us on the brink of a collapse of devolution and a return to direct rule.

"I send my best wishes to Northern Ireland's leaders as they continue the crucial process of implementing the historic agreements the cross-party talks I chaired were able to deliver.

"Northern Ireland and its people will always have a very special place in my heart, and I am confident that progress will continue to be made to embed peace, stability and prosperity."

Within minutes of Mrs Villiers' departure, First Minister Arlene Foster tweeted: "I enjoyed working with her and wish her all the best for the future."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood added: "Theresa Villiers was a hard-working Northern Ireland Secretary of State, albeit one with whom I had my fair share of disagreements, and I wish her well in the future."

And Alliance leader David Ford said: "I wish to thank Theresa Villiers for her service as Secretary of State. Although we didn't always see eye-to-eye, her time in office required dealing with a number of serious political challenges, while she also presided over a number of political agreements.

"However, the difficulties that led to those agreements and the problems implementing them showcase the tensions and unresolved issues among other parties that continue to limit Northern Ireland's true potential."

Mrs Villiers' tenure as Secretary of State included the successful G8 summit in Co Fermanagh in June 2013, which resulted in an international agreement aimed at ensuring that big multinational businesses paid their fair share of tax.

She also chaired 11 weeks of inter-party talks in Belfast in 2013, resulting in the Stormont House Agreement. After "problems with implementation" - a breakdown over the introduction of welfare reforms - she had to chair a further 10 weeks of talks in 2015, which delivered the Fresh Start agreement.

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