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Secretary of State meets First and deputy First ministers

The newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP has reaffirmed the UK Government’s commitment to a prosperous, stable and peaceful Northern Ireland during his first visit since taking up the role.

Today (Saturday) the Secretary of State attended a Cabinet meeting in London, before travelling to Hillsborough Castle, where he met the First Minister Michelle O’Neill, deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, and representatives from other Executive and Opposition parties.

On Friday evening following his appointment, Mr Benn also spoke to the Tánaiste Micheál Martin by telephone. 

Mr Benn said: “I am deeply honoured to have been appointed to the role of Secretary of State. 

“I wanted to get to work as quickly as possible and was therefore pleased to be able to hold these initial discussions with the First and deputy First Ministers and representatives from the other parties. 

“My immediate priorities are to establish a new relationship between the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive as we work together to foster economic growth and prosperity, and to improve public services. 

“I want to ensure that we have a system in place for addressing the legacy of the past in a way that wins support from victims’ families and that all communities can have confidence in, and which is compliant with human rights.”

Mr Benn said that the new UK Government was firmly committed to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and to the principle of consent that is at its heart. 

“We will work hard to deliver its vision for reconciliation, equality, respect for rights and parity of esteem.” 

The Secretary of State said that his meeting with the First Minister and deputy First Minister was “very constructive”.

“I look forward to building on our relationship in the months ahead,” he said.

Addressing the relationship with Dublin, Mr Benn said: “As our nearest neighbour and co-guarantor of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, our relationship with Ireland is of great importance. 

“The new UK Government will work closely with the Irish Government to reset and strengthen the relationship between our two countries.”

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