Belfast Telegraph

Karen Bradley: We must seize our narrow window of opportunity to restore the Assembly

By Karen Bradley

Since being appointed Northern Ireland Secretary in January 2018, my overriding priority has been to restore in full the institutions set out in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

When the last round of talks collapsed in February 2018, it was clear to me that the process of restoring devolution would not be a quick or easy task to achieve.

Trust between the main Northern Ireland parties was in short supply.

I share the deep frustration felt by the people of Northern Ireland as the months have turned into years, and I want to see devolution re-established at the earliest opportunity.

It is an unacceptable situation as the number of decisions on issues that directly affect people's lives, and that need to be taken by locally-elected and locally-accountable politicians, continues to grow.

The Northern Ireland Civil Service has worked extremely hard in difficult circumstances to keep public services running. I have also acted to ensure good governance and maintain stable public finances.

During my many meetings across Northern Ireland the most common point that has been made to me consistently over the past year and a half is that you want your local politicians back at Stormont doing their jobs and working on your behalf.

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The appalling killing of Lyra McKee in Creggan was a moment when we all took a step back and thought about what really matters.

In the days that followed, it was clear that there was a willingness to work together, and to use this momentum to reconvene talks. I am glad that what followed has been constructive. Since we announced a new round of talks, there has been a positive level of engagement and a willingness by political representatives to see if it is possible to work towards an agreement.

While broad consensus has been reached on some issues, however, other areas remain to be resolved.

I wrote to the Prime Minister last week saying that, in my view, there was a genuine but narrow opportunity to reach agreement and that it is essential to continue to intensify talks to this end.

The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach reaffirmed this on Sunday when they set out the need for the parties to move without delay to engage on the shape of a final agreement.

I expect the pace to be increased as party leaders, working with myself and the Irish Government - in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach - seek to tackle the difficult outstanding issues.

We are clear these discussions must be short and focused.

There is a narrow window of opportunity to restore the institutions, and I am determined to do all I can to work with the party leaders to try and seize it.

I am urging the parties to continue to build engagement between each other. It is clear that there is still a lot of hard work ahead.

Success is by no means guaranteed, and will require difficult decisions on all sides if we are to reach the final agreement we all want to see.

The people of Northern Ireland need an Executive and Assembly that delivers good government and effective public services for all parts of the community.

I know that is what you want your leaders to achieve, and that is what I will do my best to deliver.

Karen Bradley MP is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

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