Is Karen Bradley running out of road?

Karen Bradley arrives for a cabinet meeting Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Downing Street may hope the storm over Ms Bradley's comments blows over

Karen Bradley is not the first and probably will not be the last Northern Ireland Secretary to slip spectacularly on a political banana skin.

There was Peter Brooke persuaded on an RTE TV chat show to give a rendition of "Oh My Darling, Clementine" on a day when seven Protestant workmen had been killed in an IRA bombing.

There was Sir Patrick Mayhew - dressed in a dinner suit and bow tie on his way out after watching an opera - making light of a grenade attack which had injured 30 people by quipping that at least there was: "nobody dead. At the end of this opera, everybody's dead."

After Peter Brooke's faux pas he offered to resign - Margaret Thatcher rejected his resignation, but he was dropped from the cabinet following an general election a few months later.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Patrick Mayhew's lighthearted comment regarding a grenade attack was widely viewed as insensitive

There is no sign at this point that Karen Bradley intends to offer her resignation, nor that her firm ally, Theresa May, would demand such a move.

Those close to Mrs Bradley point out that she clarified her comment at the earliest possible opportunity, just three hours after pronouncing that security force killings were "not crimes".

They ask if her detractors have never said anything in their lives that came out wrong?

She has now apologised - even though it took 24 hours - but with the government obsessed by Brexit and Mrs May short of unconditionally loyal colleagues like Mrs Bradley, Downing Street may hope this blows over.

'Running out of road?'

However, following her previous admission that, when appointed, she was not aware of voting patterns in Northern Ireland, the secretary of state seems to be running out of road.

Not just nationalists but also the centrist Alliance Party believe she is compromised by the Conservatives' parliamentary alliance with the DUP and lacks the grasp of the many nuances of local politics and history required to navigate a way forward.

Victims of state violence have proved reluctant to accept Mrs Bradley's clarification, perhaps because they believe her comments were part of a pattern.

They have seen both the secretary of state and the prime minister keen to assuage the concerns of DUP MPs and Tory backbenchers lobbying on behalf of security force veterans, and view the Ministry of Defence's plans to potentially legislate to block supposedly spurious prosecutions against military veterans with acute suspicion.

'Laser-like focus'

At their recent annual conference, the Alliance leader Naomi Long strongly criticised Mrs Bradley, lampooning her remark that she is directing a laser-like focus on the Stormont deadlock by quipping that all this meant was that lasers could be added to the list of things the Secretary of State does not know anything about.

Alliance reiterated their long-standing demand that an independent chair - not Mrs Bradley - should be brought in to convene any future inter-party talks.

The political dynamics at Westminster may mean this is not a resigning matter, but if she carries on regardless, Karen Bradley could risk becoming a lame duck secretary of state without the authority to deal with either Northern Ireland's troubled past or its politically paralysed present.

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