Northern Ireland news

Julian Smith to meet Stormont parties today

Julian Smith addressing the DUP party conference in 2017. Picture by Michael Cooper/PA Wire

JULIAN Smith is expected to meet Stormont's main parties today during his first visit to Northern Ireland since being appointed secretary of state.

The former Conservative chief whip was named as a successor to Karen Bradley on Wednesday as Boris Johnson made a raft of new appointments to his cabinet.

The Scottish-born MP for Skipton and Ripon, a safe Tory seat in north Yorkshire, voted to remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

He was part of Theresa May's Tory leadership campaign team and was chief whip during the series of Westminster votes on the withdrawal agreement.

Mr Smith spoke at the DUP's 2017 conference, describing its MPs as a "credit" to the party and Northern Ireland.

Talks aimed at restoring the devolved institutions have continued this week, with most effort focused on a series of bilateral meetings between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Last night SDLP leader Nichola Mallon said the new secretary of state could not be a "DUP yes man"

 

"We note the enthusiasm with which Julian Smith was welcomed by the DUP at Westminster and the relationship he has undoubtedly formed with them given his previous role as chief whip," she said.

 

"That poses an immediate challenge to the new secretary of state to demonstrate that he is not beholden to one party as efforts to restore inclusive power-sharing government continue.”

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said Northern Ireland Office policy was the problem "rather than the personality that fronts it".

"If Julian Smith continues to follow flawed and failed policies then he will fail like the previous incumbent and the one before that," he said.

Less than 24 hours into his new role, the secretary of state yesterday faced a united call from Stormont's parties to bring forward the legislation that would enable compensation payments to victims of historical institutional abuse.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she hoped the legislation would be the first matter on which Mr Smith could deliver, while Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill accused the secretary of state's predecessor and the NIO of "stalling and prevarication".

The letter from the parties came as came as former secretary of state Karen Bradley made an unusual call for newly-installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to urgently address the issues of compensation for historical institutional abuse victims and pensions for those badly injured during the Troubles.

The call was unexpected as the former secretary of state, who was sacked on Wednesday during the Tory leader's reshuffle, has been blamed for delaying the resolution of both issues.

"The people of Northern Ireland have been without a government for two and a half years, and that has affected many, but most deeply it has affected those who were victims of historical institutional abuse and those who were severely physically and psychologically disabled in the troubles, through no fault of their own – will he (Mr Johnson) commit to deliver for those people?" she said in the House of Commons.

Mr Johnson was non-committal, however, making reference to the prosecution of British army veterans rather than the matters Mrs Bradley had raised.

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