Britain’s Starmer meets Northern Ireland leaders on first trip as PM

Edinburgh, July 8, (PA Media/dpa/GNA) – British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, met Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, as he continues his tour of the UK.

The prime minister is visiting Belfast, following his trip to Scotland on Sunday, and will also visit Wales to round off a visit to the three devolved nations.

He arrived at Stormont Castle early on Monday morning, as he begins his first full week in office, ahead of travelling to the NATO summit in Washington on Tuesday.

O’Neill and Little-Pengelly, greeted Starmer and new Northern Ireland Secretary, Hilary Benn, at the castle entrance before they held a meeting inside. O’Neill congratulated him on his electoral success, and they discussed Westminster and Stormont parliamentary schedules.

After half an hour with Stormont’s leaders, the new 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 is then holding talks with representatives from the main Stormont parties.

He is likely to face questions about funding for cash-strapped public services in Northern Ireland, as well as coming under pressure from O’Neill to commit to funding the redevelopment of the Casement Park stadium, which has been earmarked to host Euro 2028 matches.

He is also likely to be asked about delivering on his party’s manifesto pledge, to repeal the controversial Legacy Act.

Sinn Fein emerged from last week’s election as the Northern Ireland party, with the largest representation at Westminster and the republican party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, has urged the new Prime Minister to “embrace the right of Irish self-determination and constitutional change toward Irish reunification”.

Starmer had already spoken by phone with Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly, following his election success.

He has also had a conversation with Irish Premier Simon Harris, and the two leaders are due to meet later this month.

The prime minister said he was seeking an “immediate reset” of the relationship between the Westminster Government and devolved nations, as he announced his UK tour.

He said his landslide victory in the general election has given Labour “a clear mandate to govern for all four corners of the United Kingdom”.

His new Northern Ireland Secretary, Hilary Benn, made his first visit to the region since being appointed at the weekend.

He held talks with O’Neill and Little-Pengelly at Hillsborough Castle on Saturday and said, his priority is to establish a new relationship between the UK Government and Stormont’s powersharing Executive.

DUP leader Gavin Robinson said he would use his meeting Starmer at Stormont, to make the case for “fair and sustainable funding for our essential public services”.

He added: “I welcome the commitment from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State that the election outcome again, reaffirms support for our place within the United Kingdom and that this new Government, intends to treat all parts and regions of the Kingdom with respect.

“Now is a time for new beginnings.”

Robinson added: “I look forward to hearing from the PM on his plans for the UK’s future relations with the European Union, and his plans to ensure barriers within the United Kingdom are removed.”

On his visit to Wales, Starmer will attend the Senedd in Cardiff, and hold talks with First Minister Vaughan Gething.

There he is expected to insist Wales has “enormous untapped potential ready to be unleashed”, and will vow to work in “lockstep” with the Welsh Labour administration in Cardiff Bay.

Embattled First Minister Gething, has faced calls to quit after he lost a no-confidence vote last month, following the collapse of the co-operation deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru, and after becoming embroiled in a series of rows.

Plaid leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, has requested a meeting with the new prime minister ahead of his visit, in order to probe Labour’s position on various areas of devolved policy.

During his trip to Edinburgh on Sunday, Starmer said he discussed a “constructive” working relationship on the economy, energy and future of the Grangemouth refinery.

Speaking after his meeting with Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney, the prime minister said there are “clearly differences of opinion” on the constitutional issue of Scottish independence.

Starmer said: “The point of this meeting was to reset the relationship in a respectful way, in a constructive way, and to recognise that on the economy, energy and very pressingly on Grangemouth, there is room for us to have a constructive way of delivering for very many people across Scotland.”

He said the pair have a “joint view” of working constructively, adding: “I am absolutely clear that during the campaign, I made a commitment that my Labour Government would deliver for Scotland.”