‘Determination and will’ can help avoid hard border, says NI secretary

Karen Bradley urges North’s politicians to ‘govern in Stormont’ on first visit to Derry

Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley with pupils and staff during a visit to Thornhill College in Derry. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley with pupils and staff during a visit to Thornhill College in Derry. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

 

The Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley has said she believes it is possible to avoid a hard border after Brexit.

Speaking during her first visit to Derry, Ms Bradley acknowledged there were tensions over the Border issues but said that with “determination and will we can get this right”.

Ms Bradley visited staff and students in Thornhill College and toured Derry’s 17th-century walls with representatives from the business and tourism community before meeting patients and staff at Altnagelvin Hospital.

“Brexit has been raised with me everywhere I’ve gone,” she said. “Our commitments to both the Belfast Agreement and the commitments made in the joint report before Christmas stand firm . . . We will not have a hard border.”

She added: “The UK government has determined no hard border, no new physical infrastructure. The Irish Government has said the same and the EU has said the same. We want to resolve this through our overall UK-EU relationship, and that’s what we’re working towards.”

Ms Bradley also called on the North’s politicians to “come together and do the right thing and govern in Stormont for the people that elected them”.

She said she had heard details of the impact of not having a government from students, business leaders and public servants during her visits to the North.

Devolved government

“What I want to see is the parties come back together. Get back round the table and let’s get devolved government up and running in Stormont,” she said.

Ahead of Ms Bradley’s visit to Derry, Sinn Féin called on her to honour the British government’s agreement to release funding for legacy inquests and to open the consultation on the legacy mechanisms contained in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

The secretary of state said the commitment would be honoured and that a “consultation will happen soon” on the subject.

During her visit Ms Bradley made a point of walking the section of the city’s walls which overlooked the Bogside, in order to better understand the geography and history of the city.

She also revealed she was a fan of the TV series Derry Girls and had been keen to include a visit to Thornhill College – the all-girls school which inspired the fictional college in the show – in the itinerary.

Drama students

Ms Bradley had lunch with the sixth-form drama students, and met student Maria Laird, who plays first-year pupil Tina in the programme.

She then held a Q&A session with the school’s politics students, answering questions on Brexit, equal marriage, the Irish language and abortion.

Derry Girls is just such a great series,” said Ms Bradley.

She said she may even be a bit of a Derry Girl herself.

“I’ve been hearing about how the name Bradley comes from the area, and we know my husband’s family came from somewhere nearby but we’ve never been able to pin down exactly where,” she said. “Maybe I’m an honorary Derry Girl, by marriage.”