Northern Ireland

James Brokenshire will not step aside for post-election talks

James Brokenshire Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was meeting Ireland's minister for foreign affairs, Charlie Flanagan in Dublin.

The Northern Ireland Secretary has rejected calls for him to step aside as chair of cross-party talks after the assembly election.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have claimed his recent comments on the legacy of the Troubles mean he cannot be an honest broker in negotiations.

But Mr Brokenshire said he is very much looking forward to the discussions.

Voters go to the polls on 2 March after the power-sharing executive collapsed over a botched energy scheme.

Asked about whether it would be useful to introduce an independent chair for the legacy elements of the talks, the secretary of state said the focus should be on using the three-week period after the election to get the Stormont Executive back up and running.

"As secretary of state for Northern Ireland, I take the lead responsibility for the UK government and I very much look forward to getting into discussions with the parties immediately following the election, doing all that I can to support work to get us back into devolved government," he said.

In an article for the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Brokenshire wrote that there was a "disproportionate focus" on the investigation of Troubles killings carried out by former soldiers and police officers.

Special status

Since then, the PSNI Legacy Branch has released figures showing that killings by the Army account for only about 30% of its workload.

Asked whether these figures contradicted his view, the secretary of state insisted that the overall framework for dealing with the past was not as balanced as it should be.

"I think that there is an issue in relation to the overall framework, the systems that are frankly not delivering for anyone in relation to legacy. That is why I do feel very keenly that we do need reform," he said.

He said one objective of any future talks would be to "create a system that starts to work, because at the moment this is failing everyone".

Mr Brokenshire said he stood by comments ruling out special status for Northern Ireland within the EU.

However, he added that the Brexit negotiations would take into account special factors such as the border, the single electricity market and cross-border health care.

On the question of whether or not he was likely to be in charge of Northern Ireland via a return to direct rule by the summer, the secretary of state insisted that he was "not contemplating anything other than a continuation of devolved government in Northern Ireland".

"I'm very clear this is my absolute focus here," he said.

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