New Direct Ruler arrives in Ireland

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The new British Direct Ruler, Julian Smith, has received a mixed response from Sinn Féin ahead of his arrival in Derry to take control of British government operations in the north of Ireland.

Smith, who was born in Scotland, currently represents Skipton and Ripon, a constituency of market towns within the Yorkshire Dales popular with retirees.

Most recently criticised for breaking parliamentary protocols as Chief Whip, in 2013 he was accused of McCarthyism after seeking the prosecution of journalists for publishing reports of crimes perpetrated by state intelligence agencies based on the revelations of US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

His appointment by new British PM Boris Johnson as part of an extreme-right Brexiteer Tory cabinet has raised fears that Smith’s main purpose may become the remilitarisation of the north of Ireland.

Former civil servant in the North, Stephen Grimason, revealed that Smith would have “a close relationship with the DUP”, and had attended their annual conference two years ago.

In an unusually forthright comment, a prominent Sinn Féin councillor hit out at the appointment of the latest English Tory backbencher to run the Six Counties.

In a tweet, Catherine Nelson condemned the new Direct Ruler, as well as his predecessors Karen Bradley, James Brokenshire and Theresa Villiers.

“Brokenshire, Villiers, Bradley, Smith - all symbols of British occupation. None will ever serve the interests of the people of this island,” she warned. “Their focus is and will remain maintaining what little is left of their crumbling empire. [The] only way [is] to send them home.”

Her comments came in for criticism from unionists, who claimed that Nelson also wanted to “send home” those unionists who consider themselves British.

Ulster Unionist councillor Julie Flaherty called for her to apologise for her remarks and “remember that words have consequences”.

Ms Nelson responded: “We both know I meant British Secretary of States in the event of Irish independence and not Unionists or British Citizens.”

She also appeared to raise the ire of Sinn Féin administrators, as her tweet was subsequently deleted.

In a statement subsequently released through the SF press office, former Assembly member Conor Murphy warned that the change in Direct Ruler would end in failure if not accompanied by a change in approach by Britain’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

“The major problem within the NIO is the policy it implements rather than the personality that fronts it,” Mr Murphy said.

“If Julian Smith continues to follow flawed and failed policies then he will fail like the previous incumbent and the one before that.

“Unfortunately, Julian Smith doesn’t exactly inspire confidence given that his only interest in the North to date seems to have been to attend the DUP conference.”

Mr Murphy said successive British administrations had refused to honour agreements or to resolve the issues of the past “while imposing austerity and Brexit against the wishes and best interests of the people”.

He also lashed out at the Tory/DUP pact in the current government at Westminster, which the DUP have said they may now seek to renegotiate.

“Boris Johnson’s party abandoned the rigorous impartiality demanded by the Good Friday Agreement in order to enter into a self-serving pact with the DUP,” he said.

“That has proved to be a toxic partnership for our political process with the British government acquiescing to a denial of rights and equality that would never be tolerated in their own country.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who met Smith on his arrival in Belfast today, said she asked him about a border poll and gave him a copy of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ms McDonald said she asked Smith about the threshold for calling a border poll -- according to the GFA, Smith now has the sole discretion to call a referendum on reunification.

She told him she hoped he would be “the last” British Direct Ruler and said he took the remark “in good part”, adding he understood that would be the position of Irish republicans.

“We also presented him with a copy of the Good Friday Agreement,” Ms McDonald added. “He assured us that he had, in fact, read it and he’s re-reading it and we took some heart from that.”

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