‘Still an opportunity’ for Stormont politicians to resurrect Assembly – Cleverly

‘Still an opportunity’ for Stormont politicians to resurrect Assembly – Cleverly

There is still an opportunity for Northern Ireland’s politicians to resurrect the powersharing Assembly, the Foreign Secretary has said.

James Cleverly was in the region on Wednesday as time ticks down to the January 19 deadline for the executive to be restored.

Devolution in Northern Ireland has been in flux since last February when the DUP, the region’s largest unionist party, withdrew its First Minister from the ministerial executive in protest at the Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party has made clear it will not allow a return to powersharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.

Brexit
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly (2nd left) with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (left) meeting with political members of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance at government buildings in Belfast city centre. (Peter Morrison/PA)

Mr Cleverly said he wants to address the issues the DUP has raised.

He was asked whether hopes are fading within the UK Government to see the Assembly restored by the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Of course we want to see Stormont up and running, the powersharing executive is an incredibly important part of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we want to see it up and running,” he responded.

“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is having to plan for emergency legislation to address things like the budget to make sure that the people of Northern Ireland have a health service that works, education that works, help with the cost of living – the things that they expect their elected representatives to be dealing with.

“These are Stormont competencies, we want them dealt with in Stormont rather than in Westminster so of course we want the executive up and running.
“We are listening to the reasons why the DUP for example, do not feel that they can take up their part in the power sharing executive. We want to address those. But ultimately it is for the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to discharge their duties. That’s what we want.

“There is still an opportunity for them to do so and, meanwhile, I’ll be continuing to negotiate with the European Commission to try and address the issues that have been raised, both by the political representatives here, but also the business representatives that I have been talking to this afternoon.”

Earlier Mr Cleverly met with political leaders and businesses, with the protocol among the issues discussed.

However, his engagements in Belfast and a garden centre in Co Down were overshadowed after Sinn Fein and the SDLP did not attend the all-party meeting in Belfast.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald said she was excluded, but Mr Cleverly said the party was very welcome to attend and vice-president Michelle O’Neill – an elected MLA – had been invited