Secretary of State Karen Bradley determined to overcome obstacles to devolution

Secretary of State Karen Bradley during a visit to Belfast's Titanic Quarter yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE newly-appointed secretary of state has said she is determined to overcome the challenges at the heart of Stormont's power-sharing crisis and restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.

On her first visit to Belfast yesterday, Karen Bradley said she wanted to work collaboratively with the region's parties to forge an agreement that will see a coalition executive resurrected.

Her appointment to the role, following James Brokenshire's surprise resignation on health grounds, came as the north marked a year since Stormont's devolved administration imploded in a row over the botched Renewable Heat Incentive.

The rift between the DUP and Sinn Féin has widened in the intervening 12 months to take in long-standing cultural and legacy disputes.

The prospects of a deal to restore powers-sharing still appear bleak, with the spectre of a return to Westminster direct rule looming large.

Ms Bradley met students at Belfast's Metropolitan College in the city's Titanic Quarter on her first official engagement in the region.

During her visit to the college, she was visibly relaxed as she chatted with students and staff for more than an hour.

The secretary of state is expected to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in London tomorrow as part of a renewed effort to break the political deadlock.

"I want to find a way through this because the absolute priority is to restore devolved government as soon as possible," she said.

Asked if she intended to adopt a new approach to the faltering negotiation process, Ms Bradley stressed she was still in learning mode.

"I am here to learn, I am here to find out, I am here to meet all the leaders, I'm here to look at what needs to be done.

"I know there are challenges but I am determined we will find a way through those challenges.

"We need to deliver devolved government to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and that's what I am determined to do."

The Conservative MP said she was also conscious of the need to deliver a Brexit that worked for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Ms Bradley said she understood the importance of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and ensuring a safe future.

"My aim is to work collaboratively to find solutions to those issues that are acceptable to everyone," she said.

The former culture secretary said the Irish government would have an "important role" to play in efforts to save devolution.

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