Northern Ireland news

Theresa Villiers says Northern Ireland is ‘more stable than it has been for years'

Former secretary of state for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at a ceremony to mark the Battle of the Somme Centenary at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire 
David Young, Press Association

DEPARTING Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she leaves the post with the belief that the north is more stable than it has been for years.

Announcing her departure from front bench politics, the Chipping Barnet MP said new British Prime Minister Theresa May offered her a role in the British government, but it was not one she felt she could accept.

The former transport minister, who spent four years in the Northern Ireland Office, said she was confident further political progress would be made at Stormont to solidify the peace.

"I regret to say that I have left the government," she said.

"The new prime minister was kind enough to offer me a role but it was not one which I felt I could take on.

"I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve on the front bench for 11 years, first in the shadow cabinet, then as transport minister, and finally as secretary of state for Northern Ireland for four years in David Cameron's cabinet."

As a vocal Brexiteer, Ms Villiers had faced calls to quit as Northern Ireland secretary in the wake of the referendum result, with Sinn Fein among critics which claimed her position was untenable, given that 56 per cent of people in the north had voted to remain.

The Tory MP, who backed Andrea Leadsom for party leader, had expressed a desire to continue in the post, highlighting that she was on the same side of the EU argument as DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and therefore had no reason to step down.

During her four years in Belfast, Ms Villiers played a key role in negotiating two political deals - the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

Both accords helped keep the powersharing executive afloat when at times there was a very real threat of collapse.

One of the first items in the in-tray of the new incumbent will be attempting to find a resolution to a thorny political impasse that has prevented the establishment of new mechanisms for dealing with the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Ms Villiers said she wanted to thank everyone who supported her during her time in overnment.

"I am sad to bring to end my work in Northern Ireland but I believe that I leave the political situation there in a more stable position than it has been for many years, not least because I was able to help tackle the crisis which a year ago left us on the brink of a collapse of devolution and a return to direct rule," she said.

"I send my very best wishes to Northern Ireland's leaders as they continue the crucial process of implementing the two historic agreements that the cross party talks I chaired were able to deliver.

"Northern Ireland and its people will always have a very special place in my heart and I am confident that progress will continue to be made to embed peace, stability and prosperity there.

"I wish the prime minister well in the great task on which she and her government are about to embark to seize the many positive opportunities presented by the Brexit vote.

"They will have my full support in that vital work. I look forward to continuing to represent the interests of my Chipping Barnet constituents in parliament with enthusiasm and diligence."

Ms Villiers' exit was met by contrasting reactions from Stormont's two main parties - the DUP and Sinn Fein.

DUP leader Mrs Foster tweeted: "I enjoyed working with her & wish her all the best for the future."

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson struck a very different tone.

"Theresa Villiers will be no loss - all British Secretary of States should stay over there," she tweeted.

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