New Northern Ireland Secretary "absolutely determined" to restore powersharing

Ms Bradley begins her job just days before the anniversary of the collapse of powersharing

New Northern Ireland Secretary "absolutely determined" to restore powersharing

Karen Bradley speaks to the media in Belfast, 10-01-2017. Image: David Young/PA Wire/PA Images

The new Northern Secretary has said she does not underestimate the task of getting Stormont back up and running.

Karen Bradley met with a number of Northern parties on her first ever visit to the region this afternoon.

She was appointed to the position yesterday following the surprise resignation of her predecessor James Brokenshire on health grounds.

She held talks with the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance parties – however it is understood a diary clash prevented Sinn Féin from sitting down with her.

She held a phone conversation with the party instead.

Ms Bradley is starting her job just days short of the anniversary of the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont.

She faces the unenviable task of attempting to break the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Féin - while averting the prospect of a return to direct rule from Westminster and dealing with border issues caused by Brexit.

Speaking during her visit she pledged to do everything she could to help restore devolution:

“I know there are challenges but I am absolutely determined we will find a way through those challenges,” she said.

“We need to deliver devolved Government to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and that is what I am determined to do.”

She said all parties in the North must rise to the many challenges facing the region over the coming weeks.

Her planned meeting with Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill was put back to next week following their conversation over the phone.

In a statement, Ms O'Neill said her party is ready to engage in meaningful talks to break the deadlock.

The DUP leader Arlene Foster meanwhile said scheduling mix-up was indicative of the wider situation within the party.

“I think it is another indicator that all is not well within Sinn Féin and that they are a party in disarray at present,” she said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaks with media after talks with the new Northern Secretary Karen Bradley at Stormont, 10-01-2017. Image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images

She claimed the “clock was ticking” on the restoration of power-sharing and warned that if no deal can be reached some form of direct rule from London must be put in place.

The Irish language remains a major sticking point in the talks.

Sinn Féin is calling for the introduction of a standalone Irish Language Act, bringing Gaeilge onto a par with English in the region - as was agreed by all parties at St Andrews in 2007.

The DUP had proposed a hybrid act, accommodating both the Irish language and those who speak in Ulster-Scots

Mrs Foster said her party wanted to see an executive restored immediately - and expressed her hope that "other parties will also say they will put the needs of our health service, schools, roads and the economy ahead of their own party political demands."

Citizens' rights

Ms O’Neill said the DUPs apparent eagerness to return to direct rule “makes clear they have no interest in resolving the issues at heart of the current crisis and no interest in re-entering powersharing on the basis of equality and respect.”

“Martin McGuinness made clear there can be no denial of the rights of citizens and no return to the status quo,” she said.

“The agreements make clear there can be no return to direct rule.

“Sinn Féin is ready to engage in meaningful talks to resolve the issues and re-establish the power sharing institution; however the question is, are the DUP serious about partnership government?”

Mrs Bradley is due to meet the Tánaiste Simon Coveney in London on Friday.