NI Parties Left Reeling After PM Visit

Political representatives in Northern Ireland have been left divided once again and calling for further Brexit assurances following a visit from Prime Minister Theresa May this week.

The Conservative party leader restated her "unshakeable" commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland in a speech at Allstate on Tuesday 05, before holding a round of talks with political leaders at Stormont yesterday.

Following her speech on Tuesday, Green Party leader Clare Bailey said the address was a display of "weak and wobbly words from a weak and wobbly Prime Minister", and called for further action from Secretary of State Karen Bradley to restore devolution.

The south Belfast MLA commented: "It's insulting that Prime Minster May came to Belfast with a history lesson on our peace process as the Brexit wrecking ball is being readied to crash through our communities. The rhetoric on inclusiveness and dialogue doesn't match up with reality. The Prime Minister is doing nothing to assist the restoration of devolution or to protect us from Brexit.

"I am still waiting to see the Secretary of State do her job. I am still waiting for cross party talks to convene. I am still waiting for the appointment of an independent talks facilitator.

"The Tory Party are no friends of the people of Northern Ireland and certainly not the majority who voted to remain in the European Union."

Ms Bailey concluded: "The only people that matter to the Prime Minister in the Northern Ireland context are the 10 DUP MPs that prop up her callous and shambolic Westminster government."

The SDLP promoted a similar line of no-confidence in the Government's ability to broker a deal that includes a backstop.

"These are extremely serious times," party leader Colum Eastwood said after the delegation.

"People can be in no doubt that we are heading towards a hard border if the Backstop is not banked prior to the 29 March; a retrograde step that will devastate our economy and our hard won peace. 

"We made it very clear to Theresa May that Northern Ireland must stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union if our interests are to be protected. Westminster must heed that.

"In the critical weeks ahead, those of us mandated to protect people here must do exactly that. Soundbites from other parties about direct rule and border polls are not going to protect our people in the here and now," the Foyle MLA concluded.
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Indeed, UUP leader Robin Swann spoke out on Wednesday to demand direct rule in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"We have always been clear that we don't want to see a no deal outcome, however, if that is where we end up, Northern Ireland needs political leadership and accountability," he said.

The north Antrim MLA also placed the blame for the lack of Ministerial leadership in Northern Ireland at the door of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

"The Secretary of State should move to instigate five party talks, as she promised when she took up office, and if some parties do not want to participate, that's up to them. They will be self-excluding. It was done at the time of the Belfast Agreement negotiations, so there's no reason why it can't be done now.

"We have heard all sorts of descriptions about what will be done about the backstop – whether that's replacement, changes or alternatives to it. The Ulster Unionist Party is clear. The backstop is a direct challenge to the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent. The EU and the Irish Government are wilfully misrepresenting the Belfast Agreement and dismissing the genuine concerns of Unionists who were part and parcel of negotiating the agreement, without which there would have been no peace."

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster, who led the delegation and was accompanied by former Education Minister Peter Weir and Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen, urged the Prime Minister to stand firm on her Brexit strategy.

"This was another useful opportunity to press for a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom. We want a deal which respects the Union and the referendum result.

"Our message was very simple. The backstop is the main problem. It must be dealt with in the terms set out in the Brady Amendment which secured a majority in the House of Commons.

"During that debate, the Prime Minister made commitments that there would be legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. That is what is needed."

Ms Foster welcomed Mrs May's plan to seek changed in Brussels later this week, and urged her to standby the commitments she made to the House of Commons.

"We want a deal. One that works for us as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. But we must face reality. There is no agreement unless it is able to command the necessary support in Parliament," the MLA for Fermanagh and south Tyrone concluded.

The Brexit deadline remains set for 29 March with a mere 50 days to go and little indication of a workable deal in the coming weeks.


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