Prime Minister Starmer places focus on stability in Northern Ireland as he meets leaders

The Prime Minister has said he will work to end the "instability" in relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The two sides have been at odds over the UK Government's legislation to offer immunity for Troubles-era crimes with the Republic taking legal action.

Sir Keir Starmer was in Northern Ireland on Monday morning as he began a tour of the UK following his landslide election victory last week.

Following meetings with the Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O'Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly he met with the main Stormont parties. He said the talks were "constructive and positive" and he was focused on persevering stability in the region.

UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee said the Prime Minister's visit was remarkable in that all he met seemed happy.

"Sir Keir Starmer has experience of working here in Northern Ireland, and today he proved himself nimble on his feet with the rare ability of keeping all sides on board. "Let's see if it lasts."

“I have made clear that being here on day three of the new Labour Government is a clear statement of intent about the importance of Northern Ireland to me and my Government, about resetting relationships and moving forward in a respectful, collaborative way,” the Labour leader told reporters in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings in Stormont. “We have had very constructive and positive discussions this morning. “I have been very clear that my government has a mandate for change, for stability here in Northern Ireland and a different way of doing politics.”


The Labour leader vowed to repeal those contentious legacy provisions ahead of the election. “I have already had discussions with the Taoiseach (Simon Harris) and others, again to make it clear the approach I will take to reset and make sure those relationships are collaborative, that they are respectful,” Sir Keir said. “Of course there are issues, including in relation to (legacy) litigation.

“But the most important thing is the way in which we will approach this. “I treat the mandate that I was given in the General Election as a mandate for doing politics differently, a mandate for stability, much-needed stability. “I think one of the big problems of the last 14 years, but particularly the last six to eight years, has been instability, a lot of chopping and changing. “That all ends today. “I have had very constructive discussions not only here in Northern Ireland but with the Taoiseach earlier on.”

The Prime Minister arrived at Stormont Castle early on Monday morning at the start of his first full week in office, ahead of travelling to the Nato summit in Washington on Tuesday. Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly greeted Sir Keir and new Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn at the castle entrance before they held a meeting inside. Ms O’Neill congratulated Sir Keir on his electoral success and they discussed Westminster and Stormont parliamentary schedules.

Prime Minister with Assembly Speaker Edwin Poots Credit: Presseye

After half an hour with Stormont’s leaders, the Prime Minister then moved on to Parliament Buildings, where he was greeted at the foot of the landmark steps by Assembly Speaker Edwin Poots. He then held talks with representatives from the main Stormont parties.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said her party had a “very constructive, very friendly” meeting with Sir Keir Starmer at Stormont. Accompanied by Michelle O’Neill, Ms McDonald, she said: “We have discussed with him all of the issues of concern and also the opportunities that now present themselves. “Clearly the issues around the financial sustainability of the north, the financing of public services is a matter of concern for all of us. “Issues around the legacy legislation. We very much welcome the commitment to repeal that. “We also welcome the very firm assurances in respect of Casement Park and we expect to see progress on that matter in the near future.”

DUP leader Gavin Robinson said he talked to the Prime Minister about the ongoing financial challenges facing people in Northern Ireland. “We had the opportunity not only to talk to him about the importance of devolution in Northern Ireland but the political process itself and the need for a proactive British Government to carefully nurture relationships within Northern Ireland. “We talked to him about the ongoing challenges to deliver for people of Northern Ireland.” Mr Robinson said it had been a “productive discussion”. He added: “He has the opportunity to make significant changes and advance things positively.”

Alliance party leader Naomi Long said she hoped the Labour Government would mark a “new start” in terms of relations with Northern Ireland. Speaking following a meeting with Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer at Stormont, she said: “We had the opportunity to raise with him the importance of the impartiality of government in terms of its engagement with local parties and with the Assembly. “I think he understands how important that is given his history in working in Northern Ireland. “It also gave us an opportunity to talk to him further about some pressing issues, in particular I raised the issue of legacy.” She added: “Quite a lot to get through at the meeting but all very positively received and hopefully this will mark a new start in terms of relationships between Belfast and London but also between London and Dublin. “Certainly the last government left us with a very toxic legacy and I think that will be reversed with the current Prime Minister.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said he had raised issues about the funding of public services in Northern Ireland with the new Prime Minister. “It was a short 10 minutes with the Prime Minister," Mr Beattie. “We see it as the opportunity to build relationships, we already have good relationships with the Prime Minister’s team. “We absolutely ensured that he knew that we see a fundamental problem in the funding model for our public services, in particular health. “We have already reached out to Labour representatives with regards to how do we improve the outcomes in health.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer understands Northern Ireland. “I think lots of people have given a bit of a collective sigh of relief that we’ve seen the back of the Tory party from government here, 14 years of destroying our public services, 14 years of destroying the economy and family finances. “This seems like a new dawn and we are very happy that the Labour Party have now taken over control of the British Government. “Keir Starmer is somebody who gets it, he understands this place, he has been here many times, he worked here and he knew the issues before we even raised them. “Even saying that, we still raised them. This place needs more money to function, our health service is at the point of collapse and can’t survive much longer without a proper injection of funding. “We also talked about the issue of Casement Park which needs to be built and needs to be built as soon as possible.” Sir Keir’s visit to Belfast followed his trip to Scotland on Sunday. He will visit Wales later on Monday to round off his whistlestop trip around the capital cities. Catch up with the latest UTV Live on ITVX

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