Bradley’s meeting with NI political parties branded ‘waste of time’

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A meeting between Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and the region’s political parties has been branded a “waste of time”.

Powersharing government at Stormont has been collapsed since January 2017 following a breakdown in relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

Numerous attempts at talks to agree to the return of devolution to Stormont have ended in failure.

Ms Bradley met the largest five political parties in Belfast on Thursday before returning to London.

The meeting is understood to have lasted about 45 minutes.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mrs Bradley said she intended to brief the parties on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill, which is intended to allow time and space for political parties to agree a return to powersharing government.

The Sinn Fein delegation gave a short statement to the media after the meeting, before leaving without taking questions.

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd accused the British Government of “treating large sections of this society with utter and complete contempt”.

“We attended a meeting this morning with the Secretary of State and the other political parties to establish if there was basis for going forward with a rights based society with accountable government for all, unfortunately that was not the case,” he said.

“It is quite clear that the British Government is treating large sections of this society with utter and complete contempt.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the meeting had been “badly briefed and was badly advised”.

“I said to the Secretary of State I thought it was simply so that someone in the NIO could tick a box to say they had brought all five parties around a table,” he said.

Mr Swann said Ms Bradley must now either take “ownership of the process”, or introduce direct rule for Northern Ireland from Westminster.

“To salvage this now, the Secretary of State needs to take ownership of this process, and actually puts together a five party talks process, irrelevant of the consensus of the five parties on what it looks like, she needs to take ownership and if she doesn’t take ownership, she needs to introduce direct rule,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the meeting as a “waste of time”.

“It is quite clear that the British Government are totally unprepared to take the necessary next steps to get powersharing restored.

“Today is an embarrassing day for the Secretary of State. Quite simply, it is not her job to wait for a ‘consensus’, her job, alongside the Tanaiste, is to kickstart the talks process.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said relations between parties are at an “all time low”.

“Today’s briefing from the Secretary of State was not just a pointless exercise, but I would argue it was actually counterproductive in that relationships between the parties and indeed with the Secretary of State are possibly now at an all-time low,” she said.

“The reality is, the longer this process continues the further we drift from restoration of the institutions.

“We are not where we were in February when the talks collapsed, we are further away today from restoration than we were then, and with every day that passes, we get further and further away.”

She added: “The responsibility now lies with the Secretary of State to make a decision to convene the talks and to get us back in the room, and put it up to the parties.

“If parties are not willing to come and participate, then let them be held accountable by the public who are sick to the back teeth of this nonsense.”

The Democratic Unionists have not yet given a reaction to the meeting.

Speaking earlier, Mrs Bradley said it had “always been clear” the meeting with the parties was a briefing about her bill.

“I have always been clear that this was a briefing for the parties on the bill that will become an act of parliament next week so that they can understand what the debates were in parliament last week and this week in the House of Lords, and so they can see now that it is going to be an act of parliament in the next few days, what that will mean,” she said.

“That is what I am going to do now because I want to get those parties in a room together and really go through with them how this act will deliver for them.

“But they have to do the right thing, come back into government, and I want to see them do that as soon as possible.”

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