Theresa May’s flying visit will not halt the strange ebbing of British authority in Northern Ireland

At least Mrs May kept her word to visit every part of the UK during the election campaign even though no candidate elected will be in her government.   On a flying visit to the Balmoral Show the prime minister was asked about criticism that she had not been involved enough in resolving the deadlock..

I have been personally engaged. I have had contact with both Michelle and Arlene,” she said.  But what is important if we are going to see what we all want, which is a return to a strong and stable devolved administration here in Northern Ireland, is that the parties here in Northern Ireland come together and agree to an agreement that can enable that devolved administration to be established.”

Not quite hands-on like Tony Blair then. Bumping into Arlene – by accident of course – and only Arlene – doesn’t quite cut it as an initiative, more a token of inclusion in  “our precious, precious  Union.” But then this no nonsense prime minister doesn’t seem to have the temperament for the hard and often thankless slog  of domestic diplomacy. She has bigger things on her mind. Talking of which, it’s equally hard to imagine her handling the Brexit negotiations personally and in detail.  Her skills lie in party management,   which she all too easily identifies with the national interest. As she has (virtually) no party to manage here, she has a tin ear for our poor affairs.

But one day – soon perhaps? – a British minister  will have to explain  the lack of close engagement, a role to dread perhaps, but you should see it from here.  It  has started to contrast glaringly with the pro-activity of the Irish government who more and more are taking over the role as the champions of Northern Ireland’s  interests .over Brexit, as British authority appears to recede.

At least she managed to avoid repeating Brokenshire’s calamitous statement that Troubles inquiries were focusing too much on the army. It would be hard to imagine anything less helpful to the restoration of the Assembly.

She was also asked about the potential prosecutions of soldiers over their involvement in Bloody Sunday.

She said prosecutors in such cases would “make those decisions independently”.

Legacy issues from the Troubles had to be dealt with in a “fair and proportionate way”, she added.

The prime minister was also asked how the border situation in Ireland would be resolved post-Brexit.

Mrs May reiterated that she wanted “no return to the borders of the past and no hard border”. and there was “goodwill on all sides” to resolve the issues.

“Brexit is an opportunity for the UK but of course we have got to make sure we resolve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” she added.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London