New Secretary of State flies into Northern Ireland and meets party leaders as he gets to work

The new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Hilary Benn meeting First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly at Hillsborough Caste on Saturday evening.
-Credit: (Image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)


The newly appointed Secretary of State has reaffirmed the UK Government’s commitment to a prosperous, stable and peaceful Northern Ireland during his first visit since taking up the role.

Hilary Benn attended a Cabinet meeting in London on Saturday, before travelling to Hillsborough Castle, where he met the First Minister Michelle O'Neill, deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, and representatives from other Executive and Opposition parties.

On Friday evening following his appointment, Mr Benn also spoke to the Tánaiste Micheál Martin by telephone.

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Mr Benn said: “I am deeply honoured to have been appointed to the role of Secretary of State. I wanted to get to work as quickly as possible and was therefore pleased to be able to hold these initial discussions with the First and deputy First Ministers and representatives from the other parties.

“My immediate priorities are to establish a new relationship between the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive as we work together to foster economic growth and prosperity, and to improve public services.

“I want to ensure that we have a system in place for addressing the legacy of the past in a way that wins support from victims’ families and that all communities can have confidence in, and which is compliant with human rights.”

Mr Benn said that the new UK Government was firmly committed to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and to the principle of consent that is at its heart.

“We will work hard to deliver its vision for reconciliation, equality, respect for rights and parity of esteem.”

The Secretary of State said that his meeting with the First Minister and deputy First Minister was “very constructive”, adding: “I look forward to building on our relationship in the months ahead.”

Addressing the relationship with Dublin, Mr Benn said: “As our nearest neighbour and co-guarantor of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, our relationship with Ireland is of great importance. The new UK Government will work closely with the Irish Government to reset and strengthen the relationship between our two countries.”

Ms O’Neill said she had made the case for “fair funding” for health, education and public services in Northern Ireland during her party meeting with Mr Benn.

She added: “The cuts our people and public services have endured under the Tories must end now.

“We also reiterated the need for immediate funding to be released to build Casement Park. This would allow us to seize the enormous economic opportunities created by Euro 2028.

“The British Government must embrace the principles of rigorous impartiality, and respect the provisions in the Good Friday Agreement for constitutional change.

“We also called on the British Secretary of State to follow through on previous commitments to scrap the Tories’ shameful Legacy Act, which has failed victims and survivors.”

She added: “We will meet Keir Starmer in the days ahead and we will continue to press the British Government on the things that matter most to people, investment in public services, which deliver for all.”

New Prime Minister Sir Keir has already said he will visit Northern Ireland during his first days in office.

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