Northern Ireland parties sink plans for Stormont drinks party

NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley ‘respects the parties are not ready for this yet’

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley had  hoped the drinks party would be ‘a further step’ on the road to restoring the Stormont Assembly.  Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley had hoped the drinks party would be ‘a further step’ on the road to restoring the Stormont Assembly. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

 

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has cancelled a summer drinks reception for Stormont politicians due to a lack of interest.

On Monday evening a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) statement said what had been billed as an informal drinks reception hosted by Karen Bradley — for politicians to engage alongside the talks process aimed at restoring the Assembly — was not going ahead at Stormont House on Tuesday.

An NIO spokesman said: “The Secretary of State considered that it would be valuable to bring together MLAs for an informal event alongside the ongoing talks process. This was part of the drive to make the process more inclusive, beyond those who sit around the talks table, and to help build relationships ahead of the restoration of the Assembly.

“As she has said, her top priority is to bring the talks to a successful conclusion, and [Tuesday’s] event was intended to be a further step on that road.

“The Secretary of State respects that the parties have concluded they are not ready for this yet. The event will therefore not take place.”

Sinn Féin was first to reject the party invite on Sunday. Its deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said she would “absolutely not” be attending the event.

Ms O’Neill also said Ms Bradley, the talks chair, had “failed left, right and centre” in her role as Northern Secretary.

Then on Monday the Alliance Party, the DUP and the SDLP also indicated they would not be attending.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson described the proposed event as “unhelpful” to the talks process. An SDLP statement said: “The public wants us working to secure a return to government rather than attending drinks receptions.”

The North has been without government since January 2017 when the Executive and Assembly collapsed in part over the handling of a botched green energy scheme. Stumbling blocks to progress to restore the institutions include disagreement around introducing same sex marriage and new abortion law to the region, legalisation for an Irish language act and legacy of the past issues.