SECRETARY of State Karen Bradley has been in her post for 10 months and in that time there has been nothing newsworthy about her tenure.
It is the lack of newsworthiness that has has led me to this column. In all the time that Ms Bradley has been in office she has managed to say absolutely nothing. Nada. In the North of Ireland, we are used to having the mediocre, the outcasts and the underachievers exiled from Whitehall to Stormont.
Some secretaries of state have been lucky as the North of Ireland gets a fair share of visiting dignitaries and famous people dropping in and being in the top job, the resident of Stormont House gets to greet them. So, if nothing else, a secretary of state will have an impressive array of celebrity pictures for their ego walls in Westminster. By all accounts, from those who know her, Karen Bradley is a pleasant and well meaning individual. Unlike her predecessor, the dour James Broken shire, Bradley smiles a lot on camera and at least gives a good impression of liking the job.
She isn’t Tory-posh and she went to a comprehensive school. So as far as Tories go, in the North of Ireland she should be able to get on with all sides. But unfortunately for Ms Bradley, she is by and large ignored by the nationalist community because of the toxicity created by the DUP stranglehold on the Conservative government. In fact, as a consequence of the supply and confidence deal, the secretary of state is rendered hopelessly incapable of being credible as an independent chair of any talks process.
No self-respecting nationalist from either Sinn Féin or the SDLP should consider entering any talks process without independent facilitators – at the very least – co-chairing or joint hosting by the secretary of state and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs. Some political commentators in the English media have been pretty harsh in their assessment of Bradley as a cabinet minister. Here it is hard to say because there is nothing to judge her by. As proven by her dilatory approach to everything – but particularly to reducing MLA salaries – the secretary of state could qualify for a masters in procrastination. The Northern Ireland Office as led by the secretary of state has outlined several objectives for the department. These include: Making politics work; creating a more secure North of Ireland; growing the economy and a stronger society. Let’s put it this way. If these objectives were on an exam paper, it would be a grade Es all round for performance.
Certainly in making politics work and making society stronger, the NIO manages to make the stewardship of the RHI scheme look competent. It is possible to feel sorry for the secretary of state. She voted remain but has to implement a Brexit policy which is hugely damaging to the North of Ireland. Her recent speech on Brexit in the House of Commons showed that she is either way out of her depth on the subject as it affects the North of Ireland or that she is in complete denial. It’s probably both.
The business community and most in civic society in the North of Ireland have made it quite clear to both the NIO and Westminster that they want a soft landing from Brexit but they have been patronised or dismissed for their efforts.
In making politics work and making society stronger, the NIO manages to make the stewardship of the RHI scheme look competent
As a non-unionist there is something bizarre and unsettling watching a combination of Conservative and Unionist sowing the seeds of disunity throughout the UK. When the ‘Union’ finally breaks up, as it will, they can tell their children and grandchildren that they were the demolition mob who swung the wrecking ball of Brexit. It’s hard to credit but the Secretary of State is actually assisted in doing nothing by two junior ministers, Lord Duncan of Springbank and Shailesh Vara, who is an MP. You can be forgiven if you have never heard of them. They are about as visible in the North of Ireland as a white-rumped sandpiper.
Even more incredible is that Lord Duncan is patron of the LGBT+ Conservative group and as a minister in the NIO he holds responsibility for, among other things, ‘human rights and equality’. Interesting conversations lie ahead for this undercover minister now that the equality amendments put forward by Labour MPs Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy have been included in the misnamed ‘Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions Bill’. Of course, the bill is just another legislative fudge so the secretary of state can continue her policy of non-interference in a region for which she has responsibility.
With many thanks to: Tom Kelly and The Irish News for the original posting.