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Labour Party showing a lack of interest in Northern Ireland

It is a measure of how high Northern Ireland features on the Labour's list of priorities that the shadow secretary of state was not given the opportunity to address the party conference in Brighton this week.

Perhaps the party hierarchy felt there was little to be said about the stalemate at Stormont, the potential return of direct rule or the central role of the DUP in propping up Theresa May's fragile government.

However, these are matters which should be given proper attention by the Opposition, which is very much positioning itself as the government-in-waiting.

There is always an element of stage management over party conferences and Northern Ireland was not the only subject to be downgraded.

If the problem with Stormont was a lack of interest, then there could be no such excuse for failing to put Brexit front and centre at the conference.

Pro-EU MPs were left fuming after claiming they had been blocked from holding a meaningful vote on what is the biggest single political issue facing the UK.

There is no doubt there are clear divisions in the party over arrangements following Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told the conference that Labour could keep the UK in a form of customs union and negotiate a new single market relationship after leaving.

A statement from the ruling National Executive Council, which was waved through on a show of hands, was less specific about trading relationships and did not spell out Labour's preferred arrangements for the longer term.

Meanwhile, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith is reported to have told a fringe event that a unique and imaginative solution was needed on the border issue.

He floated the idea of Northern Ireland remaining `within the EU and as part of Britain' but with people in the north being able to identify as Irish.

It certainly sounds like a unique solution but as with so much around the Brexit discussions, lacks detail and specifics.

As Brexit negotiations continue, Northern Ireland and the wider implications for the economy are of crucial importance, something the Labour leadership seems reluctant to acknowledge.

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