NI Secretary to meet Coveney on Friday

Karen Bradley is on her first working day in NI

Karen Bradley is on her first working day in NI

The UK's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Monday resigned while Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on the most substantial cabinet reshuffle since losing her party's majority in June. Mrs May has since appointed former Culture Secretary Karen Bradley as his successor.

A crucial post that needed filling was the role of First Secretary of State following the recent departure of Damian Green, a close ally of May who was forced to resign just before Christmas following a breach parliamentary code.

Mr Brokenshire today revealed that he has a "small lesion" in his right lung which needs to be surgically removed.

Northern Ireland has been without a regional government for nearly a year, destabilising the delicate balance between Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists that has been shaken by Britain's June 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

Mrs Karen Bradley also said she was "delighted to be in Belfast".

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been seen a favourite for the job but the Prime Minister may find it hard to move him in the midst of an NHS winter crisis which has seen tens of thousands of operations cancelled.

In addition, Minister Bradley will have to grapple with the swift development of a new Northern Ireland budget which will restore NI's public finances to a more sustainable footing.

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Mr Coveney phoned Mr Brokenshire while on a visit to Cairo to wish him well.

"His unwavering commitment - in public and in private - over the past year to securing the effective operation of the devolved power-sharing institutions in Belfast has been hugely important", he said.

"Since becoming secretary of state in 2016, Mr Brokenshire had immersed himself fully in the role by dedicating long hours to trying to make progress".

In an apparent signal that he may be in line for a return to Government once he has recovered after surgery, the PM said Mr Brokenshire would have continued to do "a good job" had it not been for his illness, adding: "I very much look forward to working alongside you again when you are back to full health".

Amid the chaos and confusion that attended this week's reshuffle, the announcement of a new secretary of state for Northern Ireland passed off with little notice.

A relative unknown in Northern Ireland, Mr Brokenshire stepped into the spotlight, calling for snap elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, early past year following the resignation of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

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