Keir Starmer due in Belfast ahead of meetings with political leaders on Monday (2024)

Britain’s new prime minister Keir Starmer is due in Belfast on Sunday night ahead of meetings with political leaders on Monday on his first official visit to the North since Labour’s election victory.

He will meet the first and deputy first ministers, Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly, at Stormont, where they are expected to discuss issues including Casem*nt Park, the controversial Legacy Act and future funding arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Mr Starmer will then meet Executive and Opposition politicians at Parliament Buildings.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Mr Starmer said “stability and long-term certainty will be at the centre of everything my government does for Northern Ireland, working with all communities, political parties, and with respect to all traditions.

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“We are the party of the Good Friday Agreement, and the stability it has brought,” he said.

“Together, as we take the steps towards a decade of national renewal, we will harness Northern Ireland’s vast economic strengths – rebuilding strong public services and generating real and tangible economic growth for working people.

“We must turn the page and secure investment, prosperity, and stability for future generations to come,” the prime minister said.

Earlier on Sunday the Northern Secretary, Hilary Benn, emphasised his government’s determination to reset relationships between London and Dublin in his first press conference in Belfast since his appointment.

He said the prime minister was “very, very committed to a new relationship with the Irish government and to progress and to the [powersharing] institutions being successful” in Northern Ireland.

Mr Benn, who was appointed to the Northern brief following Labour’s landslide victory in the UK general election last week, met Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly and other political representatives on Saturday in meetings viewed as constructive and positive.

He also spoke to the Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, by phone on Friday in a conversation described by sources as “warm” and it is understood the two plan to meet in person soon.

On Sunday morning Mr Benn met traders and stallholders during a walkabout at St George’s Market in Belfast before taking questions from the media.

In a half-hour session that touched on a number of priorities for the new government, the Northern Secretary said the redevelopment of west Belfast GAA ground Casem*nt Park was “probably the most urgent issue on my desk” and pledged the project would go ahead.

“If it’s possible, in time for the Euros, if not, one way or another, Casem*nt Park will have to be built,” he said.

On the controversial Troubles Legacy Act, which Labour has committed to “repeal and replace”, the Northern Secretary acknowledged the opposition to it in Northern Ireland and said the provision for an amnesty had already been disapplied as a result of a High Court judgment.

However, he indicated that the work of the ICRIR – the investigative body set up by the legislation – may continue, saying it was “now in existence” but would “have to demonstrate to victims’ families” it can provide answers.

“I would want to look at the governance arrangements surrounding the commission because of the way in which the Legacy Act came into being,” he said, later adding: “Does it make sense to totally scrap the commission? I don’t think it does.”

Mr Benn said he was committed to working with all of the parties, and with the Irish Government in view of the interstate case, to try to find a way forward that will command more support.

“I can’t promise it will command the support of everybody, but at the moment it has ... the support of nobody, and that is another urgent task we will get on and work with as soon as possible.”

Asked about the possibility of a Border poll, Mr Benn said the criteria in the Belfast Agreement was “very clear” and there was “no evidence that condition has been met”.

He said he would not set out further criteria because the existing agreement “speaks for itself”.

Therefore, he said, “I think it’s off into the distance myself because of what I have seen about opinion here in Northern Ireland at the moment.”

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Keir Starmer due in Belfast ahead of meetings with political leaders on Monday (2024)

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