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No more excuses, Stormont’s rowing politicians warned

UK News | Published:

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said public sector workers had for too long been forced to fill the vacuum left by a lack of leadership.

Julian Smith

The Northern Ireland Secretary has warned Stormont’s rowing politicians there are “no more excuses” for failing to restore powersharing.

Julian Smith vowed to re-energise stalled talks to resurrect the devolved institutions as he expressed frustration at the pace of recent negotiations.

On a visit to Belfast, Mr Smith said public sector workers had for too long been forced to fill the vacuum left by a lack of leadership from the region’s politicians.

“Getting Stormont up and running has to be the priority,” he said.

“Political parties across the spectrum must now realise that civil servants, police, hospital workers, nurses, doctors, have for too long stepped in for a lack of political leadership and there are no more excuses – we just have to get this Assembly and Executive moving.

“All of the civil servants and public sector workers I have met this week are really doing incredible work, when actually they should be getting much more support from Northern Ireland political leaders.”

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

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The fallout from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Mr Smith held talks with Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney in Hillsborough, Co Down, this week to discuss the impasse.

On Friday he had a number of scheduled engagements in Belfast, including meetings with survivors of historical abuse, an engagement with city councillors and shipyard workers about the closure-threatened Harland and Wolff yard, and a visit to a group focused on reducing criminal reoffending rates.

Julian Smith
Julian Smith speaking to the media in Belfast (David Young/PA)

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Mr Smith noted that a range of policies affecting the region, such as reforms to laws on abortion and same-sex marriage, would be introduced at Westminster in October if devolution was not restored by then.

“There has been activity throughout August but it has not been at the pace that I want,” he said of the current talks process.

“If politicians in Northern Ireland do not grasp this opportunity there will be a whole range of policy areas being imposed as a result of the bill that went through (Westminster), largely through free votes on a number of issues before this summer.

“I hope that over the coming days political leaders will come together and address the outstanding issues.

“The outstanding issues are important, but compared to the issues of waiting lists, compared to the resource issues across the public sector, the decisions that need to be made, these issues can be dealt with and I just want to work with Simon (Coveney) to ensure that we put as much focus on getting Stormont up and running, and that also allows local politicians to be deciding the future on these issues.

“Westminster shouldn’t be deciding it. But we need to move now.”

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