Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Julian Smith needs to be a quick learner

Julian Smith
Julian Smith

Editor's Viewpoint

Julian Smith, Northern Ireland's new Secretary of State, may have afforded himself a wry smile when his predecessor Karen Bradley asked the Prime Minister yesterday if he would prioritise the payment of compensation to victims of historical abuse in the province, and pensions for those who innocently suffered life-changing injuries in the Troubles.

It was a reminder to him that he has a substantial in-tray awaiting him today when he arrives. Legacy issues, how to progress same sex-marriage and liberalised abortion legislation, and getting devolved government running again are matters requiring urgent attention.

He may have noted that the Prime Minister didn't answer the question, but rather introduced another issue - the prosecution of soldiers for alleged legacy crimes.

In some ways, that sums up politics here. Addressing one problem invariably leads to another one and the process repeats and repeats, hampering progress. Intransigence rather than a desire to compromise marks much of the political discourse here.

Mr Smith starts work under a cloud as far as nationalists are concerned since he has close links with the DUP, helping to seal the last confidence-and-supply deal and no doubt being intimately involved in its imminent renewal.

With his work hitherto being Westminster-centric, it is inevitable that he would have regular contact with the DUP, the only Northern Ireland party represented there.

It should be noted that he has a reputation for being pragmatic and having no political ideological conviction, and certainly the other local parties will be looking for the slightest hint of partisan behaviour on his part.

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Mr Smith will soon learn that Northern Ireland is far removed from the Westminster political bubble. As the province was basking in the glory of the success of The Open golf championship, a man was shot in broad daylight in Belfast and critically wounded. Some time ago an attempt was made to murder a senior policeman.

There is an undercurrent of violence from dissidents and the creation of a hard border could give impetus to those die-hards' campaign. Whether we like it or not, Northern Ireland is still a place apart, even if much improved.

Mr Smith quipped that coming here after the rigours of being chief whip would be a respite. He may change his mind fairly rapidly.

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