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  1. ITV Report

New NI Secretary visits Belfast and Derry

New NI Secretary of State Julian Smith in Londonderry during his first official visit to Northern Ireland. Credit: Presseye

New Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith has met with the five main political parties in Belfast, before travelling to Londonderry to meet officials.

Mr Smith has been appointed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to replace Karen Bradley.

  • UTV’s Mark McFadden reports from Derry:

He will now lead the all-party talks process in the hope of reaching a deal to restore the institutions in Northern Ireland.

On Friday, Mr Smith met with Tánaiste Simon Coveney and with each of the five main parties separately, later saying they all “seem ready to engage in detail”.

I’ve asked them to meet on Monday and Tuesday next week.

We need to really push forward because getting the Executive up and running is really key to moving things on and that’s part of the preparations for Brexit.

There is no doubt that there are major challenges and we have got to treat those challenges very carefully, and I intend to do everything I can to address those challenges.

– NI Secretary of State Julian Smith

However, Mr Coveney – who is also the Irish Foreign Affairs minister - accused Boris Johnson of making comments designed to set the UK on a collision course with the Republic and the EU.

“I think the statements of the British Prime Minister in the House of Commons were unhelpful in this process,” he said.

“He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the EU and Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations.

“Only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that.”

From a Brexit negotiating perspective, it was a bad day yesterday and we will have to wait and see if that message coming from London changes in the weeks ahead.

– Tánaiste Simon Coveney

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said she pressed Mr Smith on the issue of Irish unity, adding that she hoped he was the last British Secretary of State.

She said she also challenged him on the DUP’s confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives.

“We have said to him very clearly that that relationship has poisoned the water here and has conspired to keep the institutions down,” Ms McDonald added.

“I think his commitment to deal even-handedly will be tested in the coming weeks.”

We don’t need a ‘yes’ man.

– Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald

DUP leader Arlene Foster spoke to Mr Smith by telephone as she was unable to be in Belfast.

“I assured the Secretary of State that we will work earnestly to have the institutions restored,” she said.

“There is space in order for progress to be made and for agreement to be reached. A way forward, however, will only be achieved on a basis that is balanced and which everyone in our society can buy in to.”

She added: “I want to see devolution restored and decisions taken locally in Northern Ireland. If that does not happen, then it will be necessary for all decisions to be taken at Westminster.”

We have not placed any red lines or pre-conditions to an Executive being formed.

– DUP leader Arlene Foster

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said Mr Smith did not have time to “pontificate about what his next move is”.

He added: “We made it absolutely clear to him that, no matter what his relationship is with the DUP, he cannot be a sop to their tantrums and cannot be meek and mild in front of Sinn Féin’s intransigence.

“He needs to bang their hands together.”

  • UTV’s Sharon O’Neill reports from Belfast:

In Derry, the Secretary of State was greeted by a number of Irish language act and Bloody Sunday campaigners staging protests outside the Guildhall during his visit.

Mr Smith toured the city’s historic walls, including the recently refurbished Double Bastion, alongside deputy mayor Cara Hunter and other officials.

His visit coincided with a large group of tourists who were also on a tour of the walls, many of whom filmed the scenes on their mobile phones.

He later visited the Siege Museum and met with the local Chamber of Commerce.

NI Secretary Julian Smith views Derry from the city's historic walls. Credit: Presseye

It is symbolic that he is coming to Derry-Londonderry on his first official business engagement and we believe this shows recognition by the Government of our border location and the difficulties it presents as we move closer to exiting the EU.

We are at a crossroads and now is the time to take advantage of the very real strengths we have, but there are very real risks and consequences to a no-deal.

– Brian McGrath, President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce
  • UTV’s Gareth Wilkinson reports on the Taoiseach’s visit to Co Donegal: