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Public bemusement greets James Brokenshire on his first engagement in Belfast

New Secretary of State James Brokenshire meets the media at Belfast City Hall. Picture by Mal McCann
Analysis by Political Correspondent John Manley

THE sun shone and the welcomes were generally warm as new Secretary of State James Brokenshire arrived in Belfast on Monday for his first official engagement.

He was at City Hall to pen an entry in the books of condolence for the victims of last week's mass murder in Nice.

After the signing he headed outside, where beneath an uncharacteristically cloudless sky the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup took questions from the media.

As the cameras and tape recorders rolled, a handful of members of the public milled around, most with quizzical looks on their faces.

Who was this rather nerdy looking, diminutive man commanding the undivided attention of the north's political press corp?

The questions tended to centre on the fallout from last month's EU referendum and weren't especially challenging.

He campaigned as a Remainer but is now a committed Brexiteer, who responded articulately and matter of factly to each.

Perhaps too articulately and matter of factly, suggesting he rarely veers from the script in a flash of spontaneity.

It's early days but those expecting secretary of state with the personality of Mo Mowlam or Peter Brooke are likely to be disappointed.

Mr Brokenshire (48) paid tribute to his predecessor Theresa Villiers, who vacated her palatial official residence at Hillsborough last week after nearly four years in the job.

He said he was looking forward to "days, months and years ahead" though he appeared to pause briefly, as if suddenly realising that he could be in this job for some time.

While the post as Northern Ireland secretary of state was historically regarded as a testing ground for a politician's mettle ahead of greater reward, the former immigration minister won't like to be reminded that both his immediate Tory predecessors are now Westminster backbenchers.

After meeting the media, it was back to his Stormont office, where he met his new team of officials ahead of meetings with Justice Minister Claire Sugden and Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris.

Mr Brokenshire is expected to the return to the north "within days" but in keeping with the Westminster tradition, is likely to holiday through the bulk of August.

However, it's only fair to warn him that politics in the region is often in the habit of throwing up an unexpected summer controversy and wrecking everybody's plans.

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