The Northern Ireland secretary has apologised for using a swear word when a Belfast councillor challenged him over Stormont budget cuts.
Chris Heaton-Harris told the SDLP’s Séamas de Faoite he was “talking bollocks” in a robust exchange during an event at Parliament Buildings last month.
He was responding after the councillor criticised cuts to children and young people’s services, arguing it was an attempt to pressure the DUP into restoring Stormont.
Mr Heaton-Harris said he aims to “treat everyone with the respect that they deserve” and would “happily apologise if any offence was taken”.
The Secretary of State faced criticism when footage emerged of the exchange.
The Ministerial Code states ministers are “expected to maintain high standards of behaviour” and “should be professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect”.
Mr Heaton-Harris addressed the matter on Thursday as he answered questions from reporters outside Hillsborough Castle.
He said: “I do like to think I treat everyone with the respect that they deserve, and I do understand the point about being professional in all situations.
“Now, that to me was a private situation, I thought it was going to be a private conversation, and I would hate to have offended anybody, so I’ll happily apologise if any offence was taken.
“And, you know, you learn as politicians as you go forward.”
The Northern Ireland secretary was speaking as he held a fresh round of bilateral talks with Stormont party leaders in a bid to break the power-sharing stalemate.
The DUP has been blocking the Executive and Assembly since last year over concerns about trade checks under Brexit’s Northern Ireland protocol and the Windsor Framework.
Mr Heaton-Harris set a budget in the absence of local ministers, with Stormont officials faced with making substantial cuts.
The Secretary of State said “good progress” was being made in the discussions with the DUP to provide the party with “additional clarity”.
He said there “could be” legislation to provide assurances of “unfettered trade between NI and GB”, but there would be no “reopening” of the Windsor Framework deal.
“Whilst parliament might be going into recess, this work will not be,” he told reporters when asked about talks with the parties.
“I’d like to think we will make substantial progress in the next couple of weeks.”
Earlier, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said the ongoing stalemate was “totally unsustainable”.
She said: “We have impressed upon the Secretary of State that both himself, the British Government and the Irish Government must do more; this position just isn’t tenable.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie said he maintained that government would be operational before the end of the year.
He said his sustained confidence in the timeline of Stormont’s return was because there is “no alternative”.
Mr Heaton-Harris met earlier this week in London with the DUP, Alliance and the SDLP.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said after his meeting the “ball is in the government’s court” with regards to action which would see the restoration of Stormont.
Source : Belfast Live